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Virginia Notebook: Davis and His Decision

Steve Fehr

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.

By Steve Fehr  |  October 10, 2007; 5:06 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/U.S. Senate , James Gilmore III , Mark Warner , Thomas M. Davis III , Tim Craig  
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Next: Post Poll Preview: Virginians Like Their U.S. Senators


You have not mentioned a grassroots movement for a person who can actually beat Mark Warner and that is for General Peter Pace (USMC) Ret. That is the person who should get in and run because he can win.

Posted by: Matthew Cheadle | October 10, 2007 8:17 PM | Report abuse

If Davis runs for the Senate, that will be two unemployed politicians in the same household.

Posted by: Me, in Burke | October 10, 2007 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Peter Pace couldn't formulate or execute the most elementary strategy for Iraq. What makes you think that he could win anything besides a dunking contest at a gay rights rally?

Posted by: Lord Haw Haw | October 10, 2007 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Tom Davis is one of few Republicans who we will vote for, not just because he came to our house chatting with us about issues in such a hot afternoon, we really like his demeanor and common sense.

Given the fact that Northern Virginia is turning blue quickly, to move on to U.S. Senate may be the only way out for a moderate Republican like Davis, if he can relies on his name recognition in Northern VA and traditional Republican support in rest of the commonwealth. He may be able to beat out Democrat challengers in next one or two Congressional elections due to incumbent factor, but long-term prospect are not good in this district.

His wife is really having an uphill battle, just by looking at all these Petersen signs everywhere. Honestly, as much as we love her, I don't think she can make it. It's a shame.

Posted by: Chen Family | October 10, 2007 11:16 PM | Report abuse

I live in Davis's district. I have never voted for him, and I never will. There is no such thing as a "moderate Republican" - least of all him. Please tell me - just how many times has Davis NOT sided with BushCo?

Posted by: ccatmoon | October 10, 2007 11:20 PM | Report abuse

The Rogues Gallery of Senate Candidates are all non-starters. Any sharp third party candidate with no baggage would be welcome.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 11, 2007 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Why does Tim Craig think Davis is a great strategist? Because he has helped wreck the Va. GOP, perhaps? Davis rammed through the awful transportation debacle, and his proteges Rust and Albo used Tom as their hammer to get the driver abuse fees enacted. That transport deal will beat his wife, and cost the GOP a huge number of seats in both legislative houses. Davis "guided" Jane Woods to defeat, picked Mychele "please don't think I am a conservative" Brickner to lose and now he is adding more losses to his reputation as a "great strategist". Tim, you are smarter than that, aren't you?

Posted by: Aristides | October 11, 2007 7:23 PM | Report abuse

This "reporter" needs to be fired

This is just the latest post that attempts to present opinions as facts

Even worse he cant even make a logical argument and undercuts all of his "points" in the next sentence

Posted by: What a joke | October 11, 2007 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Tom Davis is a good listener and constantly makes the rounds to talk to his constituents - young and old. Tom knows issues well and knows how to manage his time to get things done. Virginia would do well by having Tom Davis as its next elected Senator.

Commercial property is not fairly assessed throughout the state - rental properties like apartments are under-valued. As a result, homeowners bear more of the county and city tax burdens. Jim Gilmore's plan to get rid of the car tax not only didn't get fully enacted - the plan partly shifted the tax burden onto homeowners because apartment dwellers don't pay enough property tax thru their rent as it is. The make-up amounts coming from the state coffers to the counties and cities could have been used on transportation instead. Also, personal property tax rates in various parts of the state are not the same which means the distribution of the make-up amounts is not fair either.
No car tax was just a gimmick used by Jim Gilmore to neutralize his then-opponent Don Beyer who was a car dealer who profited from reduced car taxes and to get into the Governor's Mansion.
What else didn't Gilmore get done while in office?

Say no to more of Jim Gilmore's gimmicks; Vote for Tom Davis.

Posted by: Strong Conservative in Mason District of Fairfax County | October 12, 2007 1:05 AM | Report abuse

Reassessing or raising tax rates on commercial property is counterproductive because the owners of those properties aren't going to pay the taxes, we consumers will.

I do agree with you about Gilmore. He was a flash in the pan, one issue candidate who fooled the stupid Virginia voters into thinking they were getting something for nothing. That is a typical neoconservative ploy.

Posted by: Strong Liberal in Springfield District of Fairfax County | October 12, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I disagree that raising taxes on commercial residential housing like apartments is counterproductive - apartment dwellers do not pay a fair share of the taxes for schools and such in Fairfax County.

To further insult the homeowners, I heard a supervisor during a public hearing before the board of supervisors say that the tax basis of condos in the Tyson's Corner area have lower assessements because the residents of those buildings don't use as much county services like schools as do "others" in the county.

Hogwash - social security is a ponzi scheme that depends on an increasing population base. Regardless of whether there are lots of children living in those condo units or not, the residents of those condos are the beneficiaries of the local economy that depends on old as well as young people. Let the childless pay for our schools because our children are going to pay for their social security.

Gilmore's whole governship was all about his

Posted by: Strong Conservative in Mason District of Fairfax County | October 13, 2007 1:35 AM | Report abuse

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