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War, Economy & A Bitter Showdown In NoVa

Hard to believe, but Gerry Connolly and Leslie Byrne do agree on one thing: No matter how bitterly they snipe at each other, no matter how much money they spend on their campaigns for Congress, no matter how much they talk about this being a watershed election, the turnout June 10 in Northern Virginia will be miserably low.

In their face-off for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 11th District, Fairfax County's highest elected official and Virginia's first female member of Congress are so busy beating each other up you'd hardly know they were running under the same party label.

Byrne says Connolly is a "hypocrite" who "works for a war profiteer" and failed to put Fairfax on record as opposing the Iraq war from the start. (Can you even begin to imagine how history might have unfolded had the world known that Fairfax opposed the war?)

Connolly says Byrne is a liar and serial loser who plays dirty and ignores "the issues of the day -- the environment, energy, the economy -- to make her whole campaign about how she was there first on the war. Well, how does she know that? Every Democrat is against the war."

Name-calling aside, they perceive the electorate differently. Connolly says the top issue voters care about right now is the economy; Byrne says it's the war.

The two offer different solutions to pressing local issues. Byrne tells voters there's still hope for putting a Metro line through Tysons Corner via tunnel rather than elevated tracks. Connolly says that's a pipe dream and a distraction from the central task of getting funding for the rail extension to Dulles Airport.

But get them talking about who will vote in the primary and Byrne and Connolly sound identical notes.

"Very, very light, maybe 5 percent," says Connolly.

"Six or 7 percent, mainly the party activists," says Byrne.

Wasn't this supposed to be the year when voters were energized, when Democrats were on the cusp of what Byrne calls a "sweep even bigger than post-Watergate"? Here's the chance for Northern Virginia Democrats to flip a House seat from red to blue -- the winner of next week's contest will face a relatively unknown Republican, Keith Fimian -- and voters issue a collective yawn.

What's that about? In this dormant democracy, most members of Congress either go unchallenged or face token opposition in districts so gerrymandered that many voters barely know who represents them. So shouldn't voters get juiced when they finally get a real choice? Or do all those years of nearly automatic reelections result in a perennially jaded electorate?

Watching Connolly and Byrne work a Memorial Day street fair in Vienna and a house party of Democratic activists in Oakton, I saw two different kinds of political appeal. (Two other candidates, Doug Denneny and Lori Alexander, are in the primary as well.)

Voters, especially women, approached Byrne, who has served in the Virginia Senate and U.S. House (Tom Davis beat her in 1994), to talk about the war and the imperative to strike a blow against the president's party.

The candidate says even those voters who don't put Iraq at the top of their list realize that the war drives everything else. "This area is pretty savvy, and they understand the federal budget -- that if you spend it there, you have to cut it here," Byrne says.

Connolly tended to draw more enthusiastic reactions, but mainly, voters wanted to talk to him about issues he faces as chairman of the county Board of Supervisors: roads, schools, parks, bike trails, development.

Picking up on many voters' sense that Fairfax is well managed, Connolly says he's needed in Washington to nudge the federal government back toward competence -- a good argument in a district heavy with federal workers frustrated by back-to-back presidents who seemed driven to outsource and deregulate.

"I hate it when I look at the federal government and see how dysfunctional it has become," Connolly says. "At the county level, you have to produce. Why can't we expect and demand that at the federal level?"

In these last days before the vote, Byrne and Connolly are both racing to the left, chasing the most likely primary voters, who live on the party's liberal wing.

Byrne mocks Connolly for "pretending to be a raving liberal when he's really a businessman's Democrat who is enamored of developers and people who make money off the war." Connolly defends himself as the most electable candidate, but he, too, faces left: The cover of his campaign brochure is a collage of liberal causes that includes images of a peace symbol, "ERA Yes" and "Keep Abortion Legal" buttons, and a JFK poster.

There will be plenty of time for the winner to tack back to the center before the November election. And the politicians profess to be puzzled about why turnout is so low.

By Marc Fisher |  June 1, 2008; 9:01 AM ET
Previous: Sign-Off: The Last Listener Column | Next: Irony Of The Week: Carl Levin--Crusader For Democracy


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Connolly might have more of a record of accomplishment, but it wouldn't be the worst thing if voters chose to keep him running Fairfax County.

Posted by: Lart from Above | June 1, 2008 10:09 AM

Think you missed a candidate. How is that possible?

Posted by: Ray Daly | June 1, 2008 10:16 AM

Connolley isnt even FROM Fairfax!!!!

Posted by: BC | June 1, 2008 10:21 AM

This is what happens when candidates are identical on the issues

The only left to argue is nasty petty stuff

For another example see Obama-Clinton nearly identical on the issues

Posted by: More damage than help | June 1, 2008 10:28 AM

Leslie Byrne has always been totally negative even after she won. When she was in Congress even the party leaders had to reign her in for going after members of HER OWN PARTY whom she considered not sufficiently orthodox.

Posted by: Stick | June 1, 2008 10:32 AM

Pathetic display by both candidates.

Posted by: JAtheDJ | June 1, 2008 10:50 AM

You nailed it.

Connolly is getting enthusiastic support, and Byrne is held up to scorn for her negative campaigning.

Unfortunately, some respond to the negative campaigning, and that is how we got stuck Bush & Cheney.

Will that be the case in Northern Virginia? We'll have to wait and see.

But as long as good reporters like you bring the negative campaign tactics of Byrne to light, then the voters will have an unbiased report to help them make up their minds.

Posted by: Great Article, Marc | June 1, 2008 11:08 AM

Both parties just keep taking the same old folks and putting them in different seats with different titles.

Let's get some fresh blood and some fresh ideas at all levels.

Posted by: Pete | June 1, 2008 11:21 AM

It is sad that Marc Fisher and other representatives of the media keep focusing on these retread pols while ignoring a more arresting phenomenon: the human blowback from the Bush administration's wrongheaded ventures. Doug Denneny and others who have worn the nation's uniform and borne its burdens are now angry and seeking office for the first time. That is what got Jim Webb into the Senate race in 2006, and it will ultimately change the face of American politics, regardless of whether Doug Denneny makes it this time. Meanwhile, most members of the media keep looking backward.

Posted by: J.V. Reistrup | June 1, 2008 11:41 AM

I think "None of the above" would win big if on the ballot. Connolly lacks clues and Byrne hasn't figured out that there might be people on the military who live in Fairfax county.

Posted by: bzrc08 | June 1, 2008 11:46 AM

I'm a pretty solid Democrat. I've been a strong Terry/Beyer/Warner/Kaine Democrat over the years. But I have to admit - I MISS TOM. Bring back Davis. He wasn't perfect, but at least he got something done. He had a brain. These two gameplayers were enough to make me look up the name for the Republican candidate.

Posted by: WJS | June 1, 2008 1:06 PM

More damage than help Posted

"This is what happens when candidates are identical on the issues

The only left to argue is nasty petty stuff

For another example see Obama-Clinton nearly identical on the issues."

Well done!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2008 1:21 PM

You do a disservice to the candidates and to readers by giving such short shrift to the other candidates such as Doug Denneny, for example, who, despite being a relative political newcomer appears to be well worthy of serious consideration.

Posted by: J C Smith | June 1, 2008 1:34 PM

I used to be a Leslie Byrne supporter. But, after the stunt she pulled suing the Democratic party when she ran for the Senate nomination against Mark Warner the first time he ran for the Senate, and after seeing the smear campaign she has run against Gerry Connolly, I won't vote for her again.

The 11th district is chock full of government contractors. Anybody who has been in that business is familiar with SAIC. It is a very well run company that does all sorts of work for many different agencies, and for Leslie to tar that company as a war profiteer is an insult to all of those people. Whoever told Leslie Byrne it was a smart idea to smear defense contractors in this election is a real bozo. It was just mean and stupid.

Posted by: John | June 1, 2008 2:07 PM

While I already know quite a bit about Connolly and Byrne, if I were a new resident of Fairfax County looking for information on which political candidate might be best to represent me in Congress, this column would be next to useless as it includes little information on what these two candidates achievements have been and absolutely no information on where the other two candidates, Lori Anderson and Doug Denneny stand on any issues.

It seems political analysis at the Post has degenerated into a version of a schoolyard fight where, rather than provide meaningful information, writers choose what is apparently the easier route of egging on each candidate's attacks on their opponents.

No wonder, as voters look for candidates who they hope can rise above the fray and actually get something done, they also are turning away from sources like the Post and looking elsewhere for meaingful information and analysis.

Posted by: Bob | June 1, 2008 2:23 PM

Whatever it takes, its time for democrats to abandon Senor Chihuahua.

Vote other, anyone else. Then send Senor packing from the Board of Supervisors...

Anyone But Senor Chihuahua.

Posted by: AWWNats | June 1, 2008 2:32 PM

The two also rans, Alexander and Denny have been somewhat of an embarresment, and democrats should be glad they won't be the ones going up against a well funded heavy hitter like Fimian.

Alexander has a nice story of growing up poor and running for offie. But her comments about racism and other issues evidence that she doesn't have a grip on reality outside of her small world.

Denny has a thin resume and is full of contradictions. As a republican, he bombed the Iraqis civilians, called Clinton a draft dodger, and did what he was told, just following orders. Then when he saw that the democrats had a path to elected office, he saw the light, converted and tried to join as many democratic groups to show his "experience." It is bad enough that he calls the navy his "temporary service" but now he wants to be elected and serve as congressman for ever-while he complains about career politicians. I guess he against career politicians like Leslie, until he becomes one? All of sudden Denny is an expert on Fairfax county after living there a total of 3 1/2 years? Many in little league are upset with him over politicizing a baseball team. The GMU democrats are ticked at Denny for making up a debate that didn't exist, and that is just the beginning of this fake.

Leslie shines over both of them and their few supporters need to abandon Alexander & Denny and support Leslie!

Posted by: Alexander & Denny | June 1, 2008 3:40 PM

Byrne is alleging violations of federal election law in at least 42 of the 134 caucus sites. She said the VA Dem Party "designed the caucus system to exclude her, but said she does not know if Warner himself is to blame." Byrne "complained that her supporters were given different ballots than those who voted for Warner." She also alleged that Warner delegates "tended the ballot box in some caucuses and blacks were
quizzed about their choices in others." She said the battle "has left her so bitter that she cannot imagine again seeking public office" in VA ("Virginia: Warner Fiddles While Leslie Byrnes." The Hotline- 4/26/96)

She has hit Mark Warner as "Republican Lite" (Baker, W. POST, 12/21).

"There's no specifics in his platform," Byrne said of Warner. "I've got a solid record on the issues. It's not lip service. It's something I've done over the last 10 years." "People feel they owe Mark," she said. "It's checkbook loyalty. Whether he wins or loses, they want him to write those checks again. I understand that. And I don't hold it against them." (Barker, Peter "Underdog Byrne Aims to Rise Again; Ex-Congress Member Touts Experience in Senate Bid." WAPO- B01 4/8/96)

But Ms. Byrne -- who is not known for grace in defeat -- is refusing to endorse Mark Warner. She is charging that his supporters effectively stole the election: that rules were twisted to prevent some of her delegates from voting in the caucuses, that supporters of Mark Warner were allowed to guard open ballot boxes and that some African-American delegates in Prince William County were grilled by a Warner supporter about whether they knew what they were signing when they filed for Ms. Byrne. (Editorial, W. Post 5/6/96

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a news release today headlined, "Mark Warner battles party division, ethics charges."
(Hsu, Spencer "Byrne's Continued Defiance Has Democrats Chafing, GOP Gloating." WAPO C01, 4/16/96)

ex-Rep. Leslie Byrne (D) accused Warner of "ducking debates and challenged him to three debates 'any time, any place, anywhere.' " Warner responded he would be "glad to debate Byrne and accused her of negative campaigning 'as usual.'" Byrne: "Mark Warner chose to miss yet another opportunity to discuss the issues with Virginians, after
assurances he would be there." ("Virginia: Byrne Hits M. Warner Over Forum No-Show." The Hotline- 5/20/96)

Posted by: The Byrne Record | June 1, 2008 10:36 PM

Vote for either Connolly or Byrne and give socialism a chance!!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2008 1:12 PM

What each candidate says about the other is true! They are both scum bags!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2008 1:14 PM

I was an alternate delegate to the Virginia State Democratic Party Convention in 2005, the year that Byrne ran for Lieutenant Governor. Her husband Larry who at the time was a member of the Fairfax County Electoral Board was staffing the 11th district table, and refused to give me my credentials even though I had the proper documentation. I eventually got in, but not before jumping through multiple hoops. The only reason that I can come up with that I was given such a hard time was that I was there to support Chap Petersen, her opponent for the nomination. I offer this little narrative as personal example of the type of politics that we have come to expect from Ms. Byrne in her never ending quest for elected office. This kind of politics we don't need. That is why I am supporting Gerry Connolly in the race for the 11th district congressional seat.

Posted by: Lifelong Democrat | June 2, 2008 2:51 PM

xx5llvbco93d lpbd7ryjzhmao2k6 x29yie85uzb

Posted by: dtjsutdh3h | June 3, 2008 7:49 PM

HAHAHAHA- at "Lifelong Democrat".


All the Connolly people do is lie.

Posted by: Not Larry Sabato | June 8, 2008 11:46 AM

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