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Will Fairfax Voters Split Ticket?

For years, northern Virginia congressman Tom Davis used good, old-fashioned politics to cheat the shifting demographics of his Fairfax-centered district. As the population grew more ethnically diverse and politically liberal, Davis, one of the last of the commonwealth's moderate Republican officeholders, held on, maintaining the loyalty of a core of otherwise Democratic-leaning federal workers by fighting for their interests. Davis was the suburban version of a classic city ward-heeler.

But this year, following the defeat of his wife, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, in her state Senate reelection bid, Davis decided that seven terms in the House was enough. Now, with Fairfax board chairman Gerry Connolly preparing to take on Republican Keith Fimian in the November election to succeed Davis, the congressman tells me he believes his seat can stay red. I almost believed he was speaking out of more than mere party obligation--but not quite.

"He's a credible candidate," Davis says of his party's choice to follow him. Fimian, a local businessman chosen in part because of his ability to pump a lot of his own money into the race, "will have John Warner and me right behind him," Davis says.

Davis contends that despite the success of Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Sen. Jim Webb in recent Fairfax elections, there are still plenty of moderates and independents who have no trouble voting for a Republican. Although George Allen lost to Webb by 40,000 votes in Davis's district in the 2006 "macaca" Senate election, Davis that same year won by 35,000 votes (though he faced far less high-powered opposition.)

Davis argues that he could have won this time, too. "My independence was bolstered by the way the state party gave me the finger" by refusing to let Davis and ex-governor Jim Gilmore compete in a primary to see who would represent the GOP in the U.S. Senate race against Mark Warner. By insisting on a convention rather than a primary, party leaders sought to assure that Gilmore would have a clear shot at the nomination. As it turned out, however, Del. Bob Marshall nearly knocked off Gilmore at the convention with a challenge from the right. In that scenario, with Gilmore and Marshall competing for the conservative votes, might Davis have slipped through to victory? Probably not, since party conventions are dominated by activists who tend to be on the party's right flank.

Now, with Connolly all but anointed as the November victor by many Democrats, Davis says Fimian's job is to spend freely to introduce himself to the district and to then harp on Connolly's controversial record as a county leader who was a favorite of big business interests.

Davis concedes that Fairfax is Obama country: "This is one district where Obama is stronger than Clinton would have been in the general election--it's a more affluent and educated area. But McCain will do much better in northern Virginia than George Allen did."

Connolly should be careful not to run an us vs. them economics campaign, Davis advises. "This is still the most affluent district in the country--it's not a place for railing against the rich and free trade."

Fimian's great challenge will be to run apart from--if not away from--President Bush, Davis says. "What's happening across the country is a reaction against Bush," he says.

And Davis says Fimian will lack the key advantage that let Davis keep winning by healthy margins in an increasingly Democratic district: "The thing that I had that Keith won't is the deep support among federal employees. That's the result of years and years of work on their behalf." But Davis adds that Fimian has an advantage of his own: "He's much better looking than I am."

Still, Connolly has to feel a sense of relief. His easy win over Democratic opponent Leslie Byrne in last week's primary demonstrated despite the very low turnout that whatever controversies Connolly has landed in as Fairfax chairman, he retains a strong following--one that a Republican newcomer will be hard pressed to fight against in a district that just isn't what it used to be.

For more on the state of the Republican Party in Virginia, check out Raw Fisher Radio, with guests Del. Jeff Frederick, the new chairman of the state party, and retired Del. Vince Callahan of Fairfax County, who last week rocked his fellow Republicans by joining fellow GOP leader Sen. John Chichester to endorse Democrat Mark Warner for the U.S. Senate. The conversation streams today at noon right here on the big web site at washingtonpost.com/rawfisherradio. If you miss it, have no fear: It's available all week long at that same location for your streaming or downloading pleasure.

By Marc Fisher |  June 17, 2008; 7:49 AM ET
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Comments

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Connolly will shill for the contractors, any fed in the district who votes for him better be a short timer when it comes to retirement as Gerray will be looking to outsource every position except his own. Of course, the money he'll be getting from the bandits will make it hard to tell that he already hasn't.

Posted by: Stick | June 17, 2008 3:15 PM

Connolly is the most crooked poltician Va has ever seen. Taking money from his supporters do they get their developments but also caving into the far left and keeping Fairfax County from getting Super Targets and Wal Marts with a full supermarket inside. Why should the working classes have to drive to PWC or LC to visit a Super Target Gerry? And not hese folks arent going to shop at mom an pop stores. You leftists need to get real!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 7:59 AM

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