WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, who first won his House seat in 1980 and carved out a reputation in Congress as a defender of international human rights over a three-decade career, announced his retirement Tuesday.
Wolf’s decision not to seek an 18th term puts what had been considered a safe Republican seat into play. The northern Virginia suburbs that make up the bulk of his district have become increasingly friendly to Democrats. Despite redistricting efforts to keep his 10th District a GOP stronghold, the electorate has become a swing district. In last year’s presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney won the district by only a one-point margin.
Wolf’s voting record has generally been conservative, but he has occasionally found himself at odds with his party’s base. He was one of the first and most vocal Republicans to challenge anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist for stifling efforts at bipartisan compromise.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle praised Wolf’s ability to work with Democrats on issues of regional importance, like protecting federal workers in the annual budget, and pushing through projects like a soon-to-open extension of the region’s Metrorail system that will eventually extend to Dulles International Airport.
Wolf, 74, has been a long-time co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, now known as the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. He made numerous trips to Sudan and led delegations to the country’s Darfur region to call attention to accusations of genocide there.
Back home, Wolf was an outspoken opponent of expanded casino gambling and fought to deny federal recognition of Virginia’s Indian tribes, fearing that recognition would open the door to Indian casinos.
Wolf declined to be interviewed Tuesday, but issued a statement saying that as “a follower of Jesus” he plans to continue to advocate for human rights and religious freedom. He cited Ronald Reagan, whose coattails carried Wolf to office in 1980, Chuck Colson, and 19th-century English abolitionist William Wilberforce as his inspirations.
Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, said she expects the race to succeed Wolf will be very competitive, despite what remains a slight Republican lean in the district. Prior to Wolf’s announcement, the district had been rated as safe for Republicans. Wolf won re-election last year with 58 percent of the vote against a relatively unknown challenger.
Wolf had already drawn a legitimate Democratic challenger in Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust.
The vacancy could draw a crowded Republican field as well, with Del. Barbara Comstock, a former Wolf staffer, and former Alabama congressman Artur Davis, who switched parties a few years ago, among potential candidates.
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