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Let's Play Know Your Political Parties

Let's play Know Your Political Parties. Identify the party of this real-life candidate for state Senate in Fairfax County:

This candidate stresses her support for tough gun controls. She's endorsed by the state's gay-rights lobby. Unlike her opponent, she favors a moratorium on executions. She's the choice of the teachers association. She wants to put more restrictions on development, while her opponent favors more density around Metro stations. On illegal immigration, she says politicians hot for a crackdown are "demagoguing this to death and creating an atmosphere of hate."

Too easy, right? What an obvious Democrat, what a predictable lib.

Sorry. That's Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, the Fairfax Republican. Yes, Republican.

In a district that, even more than the rest of Fairfax, is trending Democratic, Devolites Davis is positioning herself to the left of her challenger, former delegate Chap Petersen. So commuters who see big roadside signs touting one candidate as "Teacher-Endorsed" and the other as "Police-Endorsed" may be excused for drawing the wrong conclusions about the contenders' parties.

When Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax Coalition of Police, says his union was happy to endorse the candidate who's "very much in line with what my membership considers reasonable gun legislation -- I mean, there are plenty of gun laws out there already," he's talking about the Democrat in the race.

Facing the toughest challenge of her political career, in a district that voted for Democrats John Kerry for president in 2004 and Jim Webb for U.S. Senate in 2006, Devolites Davis is telling voters she's a RINO, a Republican in Name Only. (She even tells audiences that Dick Saslaw, Fairfax's senior Democrat in the Senate, invited her to switch parties. Saslaw says it happened, but he was just joshing. "She's no Cuccinelli" -- that's Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, the hard-line conservative -- "but she's no moderate, either," Saslaw says.)

All posturing aside, Devolites Davis is no lefty. She gets consistent 100 percent ratings from the antiabortion Virginia Society for Human Life and a zero from the other side, the political arm of Planned Parenthood. And although Devolites Davis speaks strongly about eliminating discrimination against gay people, she sponsored Virginia's marriage amendment, which forbids same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But both candidates agree that the social issues that so often dominate Virginia politics play a minimal role in their district, where Devolites Davis and Petersen spend night after night knocking on doors, being asked primarily about traffic, transit and immigration.

And party.

"Are you a Democrat?" a young woman asks Petersen when he calls at her townhouse in the Circle Woods development near the Vienna Metro station.

When she gets the affirmative, the woman cuts off the candidate's pitch: "That's all I need to know. I'll be there for you."

With the double burden of running under the banner of an unpopular president and serving a district where most new residents are young singles, northern transplants or immigrants -- all groups that lean Democratic -- the incumbent says "the atmosphere for Republicans is certainly negative, and that casts a pall."

About 30,000 of the district's 117,000 voters in the Fairfax City, Vienna and Oakton areas have moved here since the last Virginia Senate election, and Devolites Davis is trying to persuade them that she's not like downstate Republicans who win elections by emphasizing guns, gays and God. She says she wants to keep the state and religion far apart, give gay people all the legal benefits of marriage without the label itself, and let localities ban guns from schools, libraries and recreation centers. The real divide in the state, she contends, is not between R and D, but between NoVa and RoVa: Northern Virginia and the rest of the state.

"What I have become over time, being a mom and having a kid who's been in trouble, is that I don't see easy answers anymore," she says. "I'm not motivated by ideology but by pragmatism. I've gotten to know gays and lesbians, and I see them as individuals and I see that nothing is black and white. Everything's gray."

Petersen rolls his eyes at his opponent's purported moderation and attributes it to her declining standing in the polls. "Once their numbers start going south, they become bipartisan," quips the lifelong Fairfax City resident who served two terms in the General Assembly before a losing bid to be lieutenant governor.

In an era when party identification is weaker than ever before, Petersen argues that this election is very much about party. "There's going to be a change in leadership in this state," he tells voters at a Mantua Civic Association debate. "Are we going to be part of that change? Don't let people from downstate tell you you're not a real Virginian. We are the Virginia experience."

Devolites Davis's retort to that applause line is to argue that a senior Republican wields more power than a freshman Democrat, which makes some sense.

Unless, that is, the Democrats take back control of the Senate, which they are four votes away from doing. In Richmond, party determines power.

By Marc Fisher |  October 21, 2007; 8:48 AM ET
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Comments

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But Marc, you're a savvy enough guy to know that how people campaign has little to do with what they'll do in office. Devolites Davis can run to the left as much as she wants, but with an "R" after her name, that means she'll be supporting the right-wing wackos in charge down in Richmond. It doesn't matter if she claims how she's pro-gun control -- there will be no gun control measures (none whatsoever) as long as the Repubs are in charge. So, it's an easy thing to claim because you'll never actually have to stand by it.

Moreover, as even you pointed out, she sponsored the same-sex marriage ban amendment while claiming to be against gay marriage. Really, Marc, you're not so naive as to thing this is a fun game, are you? She's anything but a RINO -- she just likes to pull people's strings, especially naive journalists who write up stories saying that she's really quite liberal. I wonder what journalist would fall for that trap.

Posted by: Ryan | October 21, 2007 11:00 AM

The gun control issue appeals mostly to Wash Post Columnists and editorial staff. The support for "gun control" may be a mile wide but it is inch deep. It does serve as a good wedge issue on the pro-gun rights side. Mark Warner and Jim Webb won office on a pro-gun platform - it didn't turn off Dems and brought over a swing group of pro-gun voters.

In a low turnout election it is foolish for candidates to sned out anti-gun rights mailings - it will drive pro-gun voters to vote for their opponents. I predict Devolites-Davis and Oleszek will both lose as a result of their anti-gun campaign materials.

Posted by: Paul | October 21, 2007 11:52 AM

"she sponsored the same-sex marriage ban amendment while claiming to be against gay marriage".

Whoops! Correction. That should have read: " . . . claiming to be against discrimination against gays". Sorry about that!

Posted by: Ryan | October 21, 2007 12:04 PM

Well, Chap got $100 more from me this cycle than I normally would have given. JMDD's scare tactics turned me off. She's running scared, but not well. What really gets my goat is the money that she and her husband have directed toward this race. That kind of money forces out the citizen politician, and we'll be stuck with professional money raisers in the future.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 21, 2007 2:17 PM

Jeannemarie's newfound liberalness is definitely disconcerting and disheartening. I typically vote for the best 'family' candidate and this year it doesn't appear to be in the R column. I can't figure out if she's pretending to be liberal just to get votes or if she actually believes it.

Posted by: Allison | October 22, 2007 4:16 PM

I wish Devolites-Davis would save her campaign money instead of sending out so many negative fliers. I've literally gotten dozens of 'attack ad' campaign fliers that fill my mailbox. I didn't think local elections were supposed to get so nasty.

Posted by: Jen | October 22, 2007 4:57 PM

I thought that Davis' negative television ad, where a gun shoots a silhouette of Peterson, to be completely uncalled for and crossing the line of decency. She might be eager to show how she is not a conventional Republican, but is releasing an attack commercial really the way to do it?

Posted by: Rob | October 22, 2007 5:11 PM

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