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Blog Home Page --> House -- Virginia -- 11

Dem Way Up In GOP Seat

With the retirement of Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate who represents parts of increasingly Democratic suburban Washington in Virginia, the GOP knew it would have trouble holding the seat. A new poll conducted for the Democratic nominee, though, suggests the seat is almost out of reach already.

The poll, conducted for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly by Lake Research Partners, surveyed 500 registered voters between 7/10-14 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Connolly, businessman Keith Fimian, Davis' hand-picked successor, and Green Party candidate Joe Oddo were tested.

General Election Matchup

The district, which encompasses most of Fairfax and Prince William Counties, has been trending Democratic along with the rest of Northern Virginia, which has seen a big population influx in recent years (Anyone from the Washington area will understand why Davis is sometimes jokingly referred to as "R-Orange Line"). Having given President Bush a seven-point margin in 2000, district residents gave him just a 2,000-vote win in 2004. Against an underfunded rival last year, Davis won with just 55%.

The district is affluent, with a median income of more than $80,000 thanks to the plethora of government contractors, and well-educated, and moderate voters who accepted the seven-term Davis, elected before they moved in, might not be so inclined towards a new Republican.

Fortunately for Republicans, their candidate has a massive cash advantage that may prove a mitigating factor. Fimian has more than $1 million in the bank, while Connolly only has $275,000 after a bruising primary against a former member of Congress and other Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $1.3 million in advertising time here to aid Connolly, but with a strong fundraising quarter and more polls like these, he may not need the help.

Republicans have a seriously uphill climb in what increasingly looks like one of Democrats' best pickup opportunities in the country. Fimian is virtually unknown in the district, meaning his numbers will go up once he broadcasts his case to voters, but with a thirty-point deficit and an opponent over the magic 50% mark, it will be difficult for him to hold Davis' seat for Republicans.

Connolly, Pingree Win Primaries

Two front-running Democrats won competitive primaries for Congress last night, giving their party a strong chance at picking up one Republican-held House seat and retaining another seat that has, in the last few decades, trended strongly Democratic.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly overcame former Rep. Leslie Byrne and two other candidates to win the right to compete for retiring Republican Tom Davis's Eleventh District seat. Connolly took nearly 58% of the vote to Byrne's 33%. He will need party unity in the Fall, though, as Republicans still have a good chance at keeping the seat. President Bush won Davis's district by a seven-point margin in 2000 and by just 2,000 votes in 2004.

Davis rarely had a problem keeping his seat, though he won a surprisingly narrow 55%-44% majority in 2006. Another former chairman of the county board of supervisors, Davis decided to retire after exploring, then dropping, his bid for the GOP nomination for Senate. Since his decision to retire, Davis has become an outspoken critic of House Republican political ills and has been tapped to help the party mitigate its losses come November.

To do so, he may have to focus on his own seat first. His hand-picked successor, businessman Keith Fimian, is a political unknown, and could face an uphill climb against the better-known Connolly in the coming months. Still, Fimian has proved an apt and skilled fundraiser, pulling in more than $900,000 so far, more than Connolly by virtue of the more than $300,000 Fimian donated to himself. Too, without primary opposition, Fimian will begin the general with a big financial head start.

The race to replace Rep. Tom Allen, who is running for Senate against Republican Susan Collins, was likely decided last night in the Democratic primary. Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree held a 15-point lead with 85% of precincts reporting as of this morning, giving her the Democratic nomination in Maine's First Congressional District, based in Portland and including Augusta, the state capital.

Pingree took 44% of the vote last night, leading attorney and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote, who charged ahead of several well-known politicians to score 29%. Two state senators finished with 11% each. Pingree will take on Allen's 2004 opponent, Charlie Summers, who won the Republican nomination by a 60%-40% margin, though in a district that gave John Kerry a twelve-point win in 2004 and that Allen never had trouble keeping, Pingree remains the prohibitive favorite.

Four Primaries Up Today

Voters in four states will head to the polls today to choose party nominees in House and Senate contests, and both parties are paying close attention to several matchups that could offer insights into voters' minds in advance of November.

In Virginia's Eleventh District, Rep. Tom Davis' decision to step down opened another Republican seat in a swing district that has trended leftwards of late. Former Rep. Leslie Byrne, who represented the Fairfax-based district for a single term before Davis beat her in 1994, is running against County Board of Supervisors chair Gerry Connolly for the Democratic nomination, and the race looks closer than it once did.

Connolly, long seen as the local party's favorite choice for the seat, came in with a strong fundraising base and has largely run as the more moderate, bipartisan candidate. Backed by Senator Jim Webb, Byrne is strongly against the war in Iraq, and has run significantly to Connolly's left, aided on the fundraising front by EMILY's List. While Connolly began the race as a serious front-runner, Byrne has hit him for his association with a defense contractor and painted herself as the only real Democrat in the race, making some speculate that the race has tightened.

The winner of today's primary will face Republican Keith Fimian, who despite being largely unknown in the district, has already raised more than $900,000, including more than $300,000 of his own money. Fimian is Davis' hand-picked successor, though he will face an uphill battle in a district that President Bush only barely won in 2004.

In Maine, Democrats are choosing a replacement for Rep. Tom Allen in the state's southern First District. A district that was once at least competitive is now considered solidly Democratic, and former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, who lost a Senate race to Republican Susan Collins in 2002, is widely viewed as the overwhelming front-runner.

Former State Senate President Mike Brennan and current State Senator Ethan Strimling, who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic Portland-based seat, are also competitive, and District Attorney Mark Lawrence and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote are the other well-funded candidates. Pingree has far outraised the others, pulling in more than $1.3 million, largely with the help of EMILY's List. Two Republicans are running as well, though neither is seen as a serious challenge in a district that re-elected Allen with more than 60% in all but his initial race.

Allen will be on the ballot as well today. The six-term Congressman is expected to cruise to victory by a wide margin over an unknown educator to win the right to take on Collins in November. Polls have showed Collins owning a big lead in the race, though national Democrats have made known they will spend significantly in the state.

Farther south, Senator Lindsey Graham faces a challenge from former RNC committee member Buddy Witherspoon, who has slammed the South Carolina Republican for his involvement in the so-called "Gang of 14," a group of senators who reached bipartisan agreements on judicial nominees, and for Graham's support for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. While Witherspoon has gotten some attention, and while Graham is not the most popular Republican in the state, the incumbent is likely to cruise to renomination.

More interesting in the Palmetto State will be Governor Mark Sanford's efforts to target a number of incumbents from his own party in state legislative races. Frustrated with some legislators' spending habits and their attempts to override his vetoes of spending measures, Sanford has actively campaigned against incumbents for months in hopes of winning a new, more cooperative majority.

Finally, though voters in North Dakota get to head to the polls today, the two statewide races have already been decided. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat, is seeking his ninth term and will face retired Navy officer Duane Sand in November. Pomeroy beat Sand by a wide 60%-40% margin in 2004. And Governor John Hoeven is seeking his third term; he and Lieutenant Governor Jack Dalrymple will face State Senator Tim Mathern and State Rep. Merle Boucher, the Democratic ticket, this Fall.

Dems Neck And Neck In VA

Two leading Democratic candidates fighting for a congressional seat in the Washington, D.C. suburbs are neck and neck, a new poll for one of those candidates shows, as both, national Democrats hope, would give their party a good chance to take back yet another Republican-held seat.

The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group for ex-Rep. Leslie Byrne, surveyed 400 registered voters who were likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Byrne and Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chair Gerry Connolly were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Connolly....37 / 42 / 32
Byrne........34 / 30 / 37

The tight race is contrary to what many had assumed that Connolly held a wide lead. Byrne, who held the seat before Republican Tom Davis beat her in 1994, has since run for Lieutenant Governor and retains good name recognition in the district, but most establishment Democrats are backing Connolly, including Governor Tim Kaine, who endorsed him yesterday. Connolly released a March poll that showed himself up twenty points.

The survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners for Connolly between 3/24-27, surveyed 500 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Connolly, Byrne and two less-well known candidates, Doug Denneny and Lori Alexander, were tested.

Primary Election Matchup

Both candidates had raised reasonable amounts of money through the end of March. Connolly had pulled in just over $500,000 and retained $422,000 on hand, while Byrne had raised $346,000 and kept $237,000 in the bank. In advance of the state's June 10 primary, both candidates are likely to spend a hefty portion of their remaining balances.

That could be a problem in the general, as Connolly and Byrne both trail their likely Republican foe, businessman Keith Fimian, who pulled in $838,000 by the same March 31 deadline and kept $742,000 on hand. Of that amount, Fimian, who was handpicked by Davis to run as his replacement, had loaned his own campaign $325,000.

EMILY's List Hits Primaries

EMILY's List, an outspoken and powerful group that backs women candidates running as pro-choice Democrats, has waded in to two more primaries in recent days, bolstering a front-runner and an underdog in North Carolina and Virginia. Whether the organization will do harm or good in at least one of those contests, though, is still up in the air.

The group, whose endorsement comes with access to a wealthy and vast fundraising list, is backing former Rep. Leslie Byrne, a Democrat running to replace retiring Virginia Republican Tom Davis, and North Carolina State Senator Kay Hagan, who is running for the right to face Senator Elizabeth Dole in November.

In the Tar Heel State, the endorsement was bestowed upon the leading Democratic candidate. Hagan faces investment banker Jim Neal in the May 6 primary, and with an electoral base and impressive early fundraising, looks to be the likely nominee. Through the end of the year, Hagan had $515,000 in the bank, about three times what Neal had stored up. Both candidates trail Dole by a wide margin; she had almost $2.7 million on hand through December.

It's not the first race EMILY's List is involved with in North Carolina. Earlier, the group announced its backing of Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, in what has become a contentious Democratic primary for governor with State Treasurer Richard Moore.

While Hagan may be a safe choice for the group, the decision to back Byrne in Virginia will be more contentious. The Eleventh District, which Davis has represented since 1994, is one of the most narrowly split districts in the country, giving President Bush just a 2,000 vote win in 2004. Based in rapidly-expanding Northern Virginia, the area is ripe for a Democratic takeover, especially considering the recent strong performance of state Democrats.

But many believe Byrne isn't the candidate for the job. Nominated for Lieutenant Governor in 2005, she lost to Republican Bill Bolling even as Democrat Tim Kaine took the top job, largely on the strength of impressive vote totals in the Washington suburbs and exurbs. Local Democrats have better feelings toward Fairfax County Council chairman Gerry Connolly, though Byrne's name recognition and base -- she was the incumbent Democrat Davis beat in 1994 -- make her a tough competitor in the primary.

EMILY's List's role in the race became more evident this week when the group paid for part of a mailing slamming Connolly for "bullying" tactics on the supervisors' board, the Washington Post reported today, and for hiding relationships with organizations that eventually got contracts with the county. Byrne's campaign paid for the rest of the mailing.

Connolly, who released a poll recently showing him with a two-to-one lead over Byrne, hit back hard, accusing his rival of "swift boating" fellow Democrat Mark Warner during the 1996 Senate race and implied the future governor and now-Senate candidate was a racist.

The scrum is one of the first major blow-ups in a race that isn't expected to get any nicer. The winner of the June primary will face off with businessman Keith Fimian, for whom Davis cleared the GOP field. While the Democratic primary may be ugly, the party is favored to pick up the seat, as Politico's Josh Kraushaar wrote in his extensive look at the district this week.

Strong Dem Runs In VA-11

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly will officially file today for Virginia's 11th District seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Tom Davis, the Washington Post reports. Davis's retirement announcement from the House at the end of January was a blow to Republicans who will have at least 28 House members not returning in 2009.

Davis's Northern Virginia district has been trending Democratic for years. Democratic candidates for governor and senator have won large majorities here in recent elections, and Democrats recently won control of the state Senate in part by defeating Northern Virginia Republican incumbents like Davis's wife, former State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis.

"We think that the retirement of Tom Davis made this district one of the Democrats' top pick-up opportunities this year," said DCCC spokesperson Kyra Jennings. "The people of Northern Virginia are looking for someone more in line with their priorities. And we feel we have a strong list of candidates."

Already in the race for the Democratic nomination are retired naval commander Doug Denneny, physical therapist Lori Alexander, and former state legislator and U.S. Rep. Leslie Byrne, who held the 11th District seat for one term before Davis defeated her in 1994.

Byrne, who has run unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor, reported having more than $100,000 cash on hand at the end of 2007. Connolly, who recently formed an exploratory committee and began raising money, said he's raised $200,000 in the past month.

On the Republican side, wealthy businessman Keith Fimian reported having more than $650,000 cash on hand, and already has the support of Davis. He will also likely avoid a costly and competitive primary, unlike the Democrats. National Republicans feel this will give him the edge in the general election.

"Keith Fimian is not only a successful businessman, but he has already been able to rally grassroots and financial support behind his candidacy," said NRCC press secretary Ken Spain. "The Democrat candidates have launched a battle against themselves over who can lurch the furthest to the left. We are confident that we can retain the seat."

-- Kyle Trygstad

VA's Davis Out Too

Virginia Republican Tom Davis announced today that he will step down from Congress at the end of the year, though he left open the possibility of running for office again someday. The move was not entirely surprising since Davis removed his name from consideration for the upcoming Senate race in Virginia.

"I want to emphasize that I am not closing the door on future public service, but after 29 years in office, winning 11 elections, I think it is time for a respite," Davis said in a released statement.

Davis initially told supporters he would run for Senate if Republican John Warner retired. But after Warner announced he would be leaving the chamber, the Virginia GOP voted to nominate its candidate through a convention, rather than a primary. A convention gave a big advantage to former Governor Jim Gilmore, whom the conservative base in the state would surely support over the moderate Davis.

Davis was first elected to the Northern Virginia-based 11th District in 1994. Shortly after being elected, Davis was named chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee's D.C. subcommittee, and in 2003 became chairman of the full committee, surpassing a number of Republicans on the committee with more seniority.

Davis has remained active on issues pertaining to the nation's capital, and most recently worked with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton on a drive to give the District a full voting member of the House. He has jokingly been referred to as the Congressman from the Orange Line, the subway route that travels through his district.

Davis was elected NRCC chairman in 1998, and a successful election cycle won him re-election to the post in 2000. In 2002 he worked with Karl Rove on redistricting plans across the country that helped Republicans boost their majority.

Virginia's 11th District includes much of Fairfax County, including the bustling Tyson's Corner, a massive junction of highways and office parks, located 10 miles outside of D.C. The entire region has been trending Democratic for some time, helping provide winning margins for Democrats in recent state legislative elections. But Davis's tenure and moderate voting record has helped him remain in office.

However, in 2006 he won with just 55% against a little-known and underfunded Democrat. Despite the vote of confidence he gave in his retirement announcement that Republicans will keep the seat, Davis has previously admitted the GOP will be hard pressed to win here if he retired.

Democrat Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has already formed an exploratory committee for the seat. His position as the supervisors board chair gives him a similar spotlight as that of a city mayor, and it is the same office Davis held before being elected in 1994. Other Democrats who have been waiting for Davis to retire will likely join the race as well, and depending on who Republicans can recruit, this should be one of the party's best chances at a pick-up in the country.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Setback For Davis Means Setback For DC Dems?

In a possible setback to Congressman Tom Davis, the moderate Northern Virginia Republican running to replace retiring Sen. John Warner, Politico's Josh Kraushaar reports the state Republican Party Central Committee voted yesterday to nominate a candidate for Senate by convention.

Davis allies, Kraushaar reports, were lobbying for a primary, which they believe would give their candidate a better chance against more conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore. Davis has a million-dollar fundraising head start on Gilmore, and a primary would draw many more moderate Republicans to the polls. A convention, many contend, would advantage Gilmore by drawing more conservative party activists.

The winner of either a primary or a convention will most probably face former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, in November. A Washington Post poll out this week showed Warner handily beating both Republicans. The same poll shows Gilmore leading Davis in the primary, 48%-29%.

But the setback for Davis could also become a setback for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If Davis decides that facing a convention will be too difficult to win and opts instead to run for re-election in his Northern Virginia district, he would be a heavy favorite for re-election. If he continues with his Senate race, Democrats will have a strong chance to pick up the seat. While Democrats could still give Davis a run for his money, it would certainly be a much more uphill fight.

Another factor for Davis to consider is his wife, Virginia State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis. Devolites-Davis faces a tough re-election fight in state legislative elections this year, and political observers familiar with Virginia politics say her seat is a top Democratic pick-up opportunity. Many had suggested that Devolites-Davis would try to replace her husband in the House as he sought the Senate seat. If Devolites-Davis loses her seat, her bid for her husband's seat would be severely compromised.