The appointment of the new chair of the Republican Party in Virginia has opened up old political war wounds that involve shady third party attacks, streaks of anti-Semitism and the early electoral career of now House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.
Earlier this month, the Virginia GOP chose Pat Mullins to take over the spot of Jeff Frederick, the controversial former chairman who was fired recently after months of internal strife. Frederick had refused to coordinate efforts with John McCain's presidential campaign, raised a furor by comparing Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden, and inadvertantly spoiled an attempt to flip a Democratic state senator by leaking it on Twitter.
But Mullins may not be the type of harmonious choice the VA GOP was seeking.
The Charlottesville Daily Progress reports that the new chair was one of a handful of Republicans who formed the group Faith and Family Alliance back in 2000. That 527 organization was responsible for mailing out blistering attack ads against one Eric Cantor during his successful run for Congress.
The spot was, according to observers, rife with religious and cultural undertones, accusing Cantor of not paying taxes despite being a "millionaire lawyer." Prof. Larry Sabato, Virginia's political guru, described it to the Daily Progress as "a despicable, underground campaign that was unquestionably anti-Semitic."
Cantor's former foes also share a wealth of ties to current GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. Faith and Family Alliance chief Tim Phillips is a former McDonnell adviser. Another co-founder, Philip Cox, current works as McDonnell's campaign manager and actually left the Alliance in 2000 to work against Cantor's congressional campaign. And the person tasked with being the Faith and Family Alliance's president, Robin Vanderwall, ran McDonnell's 1999 campaign for the House of Delegates.
The Daily Progress has the rest of the goods, including disavowals from all the key players about knowledge of the anti-Cantor ad campaign. The blame, they insist, lies with Vanderwall, who is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for soliciting sex from a minor on the Internet. Cantor, meanwhile, seems willing to let bygones be bygones in an email to the paper. "Pat is a friend," he writes, "who I know will energize our party and grassroots."
And yet, the article still provides important insights. McDonnell and Cantor are now arguably the two most powerful Republican figures in the state. And the appointment of Mullins as GOP chairman (which almost certainly came with McDonnell's blessing) could spark discussion of a rift at the top of the state party.