Virginia Notebook: Davis and His Decision
As Virginia Republican leaders gather this weekend to decide whether to hold a convention or primary to select their nominee for the U.S. Senate, no one will be following the outcome more closely than U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).
For Davis, the leaders' decision could help determine whether he will enter the nominating contest that will determine which Republican takes on former governor Mark R. Warner (D) in the general election.
Throughout the summer, much of the focus was on the options Warner had as he considered whether to run for the Senate next year or governor in 2009. But Davis, who is widely regarded as a moderate Republican, also has options that require lots of decisions over the coming weeks.
The first is whether to run for Senate, depending on what happens Saturday. The committee vote will shape the GOP contest for the Senate nomination in the spring.
In a convention, several thousand GOP activists, many driven by their opposition to abortion rights, pack a location to choose the party's nominee. But in a primary, any Virginian could vote.
Davis has been working hard to secure a primary, which he argues would give the eventual GOP candidate time to build familiarity with voters.
Some conservatives, including former governor James S. Gilmore III (R), are advocating a convention. Gilmore, who is also pondering a bid for the Senate, says that a convention would cost each candidate about $1.million, compared with the $4.million that might have to be spent to win a primary.
And that $3.million saved, Gilmore argues, could be better used in a general election against the sure-to-be well-financed Warner.
In a convention or primary, Davis could find himself in a tough race against Gilmore or another, more conservative candidate. Davis has spent years cultivating GOP activists, including helping to fund dozens of campaigns, but his moderate views on social issues and past support for some tax increases could turn off some Republican voters.
But Davis's odds could be greatly improved in a primary, in which he could try to galvanize moderate Republicans and independents in Northern Virginia to the polls. Many of these voters wouldn't be participating in a convention, which would force Davis to have to spend months wooing social conservatives who view him skeptically.
In a primary, Davis would view spending money as a down payment for what he would hope to be his eventual general election campaign.
By dumping millions into television ads, Davis would start defining himself and broaden his name recognition downstate. He also could start building his statewide organization.
Gilmore, already relatively well known, wouldn't need to spend millions on television ads in the spring to let people know who he is.
If he is forced to spend heavily to win a primary, Gilmore could be broke by early summer, just when Warner starts purchasing large television buys.
Davis supporters say they can win the GOP nomination even if the party holds a convention, although they concede the latter would be more of a challenge.
But Davis should be worried if he fails Saturday to secure a primary. The 84 members of the central committee are fairly plugged into the political realities of Virginia. If Davis can't persuade them to hold a primary, what makes him think he is going to have an easier time winning over the rank-and-file activists he needs to win a convention?
A second choice for Davis will occur after the Nov..6 election for state legislative candidates. He is working hard to reelect his wife, Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), who is facing a tough challenge from Democrat J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen.
If Devolites Davis loses, some conservatives would use that as proof that Davis doesn't have the appeal he thought he did in Northern Virginia.
That argument is flawed. Devolites Davis very might well lose to Petersen, but it wouldn't be her husband's fault. There just might not be enough Republicans left in her district, which includes Vienna and Fairfax City, to carry her to victory against the well-liked Petersen.
In a U.S. Senate race, Davis's appeal in Northern Virginia would come from more Republican-leaning voters in western Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Besides being a great strategist, Davis is a political realist. If he doesn't think he can beat Warner, he could decide to seek reelection to the congressional seat he has held since 1994.
But even that could be a tough race. Davis's congressional district has been steadily trending Democratic. Last year, he managed to get 55 percent of the vote against an underfunded and relatively uncharismatic Democratic candidate.
If Davis is going to fight next year anyway, most expect that he would rather take his chances on a Senate race.
That would leave Davis with one of toughest questions to answer: How does he beat Warner, who left office in 2006 as one of the state's most popular politicians?
Warner is well-liked in rural and suburban Virginia. Davis would have to find a way to solidify the Republican base in rural parts of the state while keeping Warner's margins down in Northern Virginia by winning at least Loudoun and Prince William and keeping the Democrat advantage in Fairfax to fewer than 40,000 votes.
Ironically, Davis's chances could be hampered if former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a moderate, is the GOP nominee for president.
In Virginia, about 40 percent of the electorate self-identifies as born-again Christians or evangelicals, and they vote 2 to 1 for the GOP candidate.
Will these voters be motivated to show up to the polls in 2008 if Giuliani is the GOP presidential nominee and Davis the Republican Senate candidate?
One thing is certain: Warner, who said he agonized over whether to run for the Senate, had it easy compared with the decisions Davis still has to make.
October 10, 2007; 5:06 PM ET
Categories: Election 2008/U.S. Senate , James Gilmore III , Mark Warner , Thomas M. Davis III , Tim Craig
Save & Share: Previous: Mark Warner to Move Into New Office
Next: Post Poll Preview: Virginians Like Their U.S. Senators
Posted by: Matthew Cheadle | October 10, 2007 8:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Me, in Burke | October 10, 2007 10:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Lord Haw Haw | October 10, 2007 11:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Chen Family | October 10, 2007 11:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ccatmoon | October 10, 2007 11:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 12:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Aristides | October 11, 2007 7:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: What a joke | October 11, 2007 7:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Strong Conservative in Mason District of Fairfax County | October 12, 2007 1:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Strong Liberal in Springfield District of Fairfax County | October 12, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Strong Conservative in Mason District of Fairfax County | October 13, 2007 1:35 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.