After a court-ordered redistricting took away hundreds of thousands of the people he's represented for the past 15 years, Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, will ask residents of the next district over to send him back to Capitol Hill.
Forbes says he wants to succeed retiring Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, to ensure a voice for the region in the senior position he's reached on Congress' key Navy affairs subcommittee.
Forbes is not going to move from the house, 50 yards from where he grew up, where he's lived for more than 30 years, even though it's 4 miles, as the crow files, from the district he now seeks to represent.
"I represented 60,000 people in the 2nd District for three and half years," Forbes said, referring to his time as a state senator from 1998 to 2001 and the district Rigell represents. "Ask Newport News Shipbuilding who's helped them, ask Yorktown Naval Weapons Station."
Forbes' decision came in the wake of a court-ordered redistricting last month that moved about 300,000 Hampton Roads people from the 4th District, which he's represented since 2001, and added a similar number of people from the Richmond area.
A week after that decision, Rigell announced he would not seek re-election.
Forbes said he spent the time since then sounding out residents of Rigell's district, to see if they wanted him to run. He said one of the first calls Rigell made after deciding to retire was to him, asking him to run for the seat.
"I'd be running in a new district anyway," he said. "It's not the district I've represented … when I talk to people they never say they'll vote for me because of where I live, but because of what I stand for."
But the first candidate to declare he wanted to succeed Rigell, Del. Scott W. Taylor, R-Virginia Beach, says that where Forbes lives is an issue.
"I think it's wrong," he said. "You're telling thousands of people you represent that you're giving up on them and going to represent a district where you can't even vote for yourself."
Taylor said he and Forbes agree on many issues, but said he believes his efforts to connect with voters of all races and from groups many conservatives shun, including gays, are a key difference.
"I'm inclusive, not excluding," he said.
His district, which split nearly evenly between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, gave him a 13 percentage point victory in 2013. He had no opponent last year.
Forbes has lined up some heavyweight support for his switch of districts, including Rigell and former Sen. John Warner, but there are signs that some Virginia Beach Republicans may balk, said Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University. Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, for instance, has asked Forbes not to jump districts.
"Scott Taylor is not going to make it easy," Kidd said. Taylor's statement after Forbes' announcement hit hard on the theme that political leaders should not shy from tough fights, and Kidd said he expects that to be a theme in the primary battle for the GOP nomination.
As for Forbes, "I think he figured it is worth more trying to fight and win a contested Republican primary in a district that is not his own than it would be to run in a redrawn 4th District that is his own," Kidd said.
That was probably the rational choice, Kidd added.
Forbes has been in Congress since 2001, winning a special election to succeed the late Norman Sisisky, D-Petersburg.
He is chairman of the subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, which has oversight over the Navy and Marine Corps programs, including authorization for Navy and Marine Corps procurement and research and development programs.
Democratic Party of Virginia spokeswoman Emily Bolton called Forbes a "self-serving opportunist" for changing districts.
Ress can be reached at 757-247-4535.