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Republican candidates hoping to secure their party’s nomination for an open congressional seat are emphasizing their conservative credentials as they compete in a six-way race.

Republicans will select the nominee for Virginia’s 10th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in a party canvass April 26, a process colloquially called a “firehouse primary.”

The seat has been held by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R) for more than 30 years, but has more recently shown signs of becoming a swing district.

In a debate in Purcellville April 13, five of the six candidates described themselves as anti-establishment Republicans and outlined conservative positions on social issues like abortion rights, illegal immigration and same-sex marriage.

“We all know the problems we are having in Washington … but we keep sending the same type of person back to Washington,” said Marc Savitt, a business owner and president of the National Association of Independent Housing Professionals. “I think we need to break the mold and try something new.”

Some of the candidates have been taking more direct shots at perceived front-runner Barbara Comstock, a state delegate from McLean who got her start in politics as a Wolf staffer.

Comstock has raked in money and major endorsements in the race, positioning herself as a “common sense conservative.” She already has the backing of Republican leaders, receiving support and mentoring through House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “Young Guns” program.

She has raised more than $450,000 from individuals and $200,000 from party campaign committees so far, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Howie Lind, a retired Navy officer and tea party activist, has vigorously attacked Comstock’s record since he entered the race, including taking out ads suggesting that she supports the Affordable Care Act and the controversial expansion of Medicaid in Virginia.

“I have been fighting for conservatism in Virginia for many, many years, not the establishment,” Lind said.

While Lind is second in spending on the Republican side, according to FEC records, most of his campaign’s operating expenses have been financed by a $120,000 loan, rather than contributions.

His ads drew criticism from state party leaders, who said Lind’s attacks are false.

Another candidate, Capitol Hill staffer Rob Wasinger, accused Comstock of lying about her record during the Purcellville debate.

“We need someone with the courage to fight against the administration,” Wasinger said in response to a question about why Republicans should support him, criticizing U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc. 1st) for cutting a budget deal with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.).

On the issues, the five candidates who participated in the debate indicated few policy differences. Comstock did not participate in the debate, citing a prior family commitment, but also lists similar perspectives on her campaign website on most issues.

Those at the debate said they favor increased border security over other alternatives to resolving the country’s illegal immigration problem. Comstock’s website does not list a position on immigration.

All six say they are pro-life. Those at the debate said they favor vastly cutting federal spending and regulation, including eliminating federal education standards. And, all, including Comstock, support repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, the candidates emphasized their differing backgrounds and style in making their case to Republican voters.

Stephen Hollingshead, a Loudoun County businessman and former federal appointee, said he helped identify and eliminate $2 billion in welfare fraud during his time at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Del. Bob Marshall, who has represented portions of Prince William and Loudoun counties in the House of Delegates for nearly as long as Wolf has been in office, emphasized his knowledge of the legislative process and his use of the legal system in pursuing conservative objectives.

“I have been tested,” Marshall said. “I am not buckling on any of these moral issues, period.”

Republicans in the 10th District can vote at 10 different locations on April 26. For more information on the party canvass, see vagop10.org.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com