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House Call: A Reverse Trend in Northern Virginia? (Updated)

Amy Gardner

Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009

Welcome, race fans! And sorry for the House Call hiatus. Things happen.

This week, let's take a quick look at three seats held by Democrats in Northern Virginia that are attracting more and more attention as Nov. 3 gets close. We've told you that Republican lawmakers Dave Albo and Tom Rust are vulnerable. For about six years we've told you: They're always vulnerable to the inexorable march of the Democrats trampling across Northern Virginia.

But the story line has shifted this year, yes? The march is not so inexorable? President Obama's approval ratings have sagged. The economy has tanked. Angst is growing about health-care reform and government spending. Suddenly, folks are talking about Northern Virginia Democrats who might be in trouble this year. Chuck Caputo, David Poisson and Margi Vanderhye: This one's for you.

Let's look first at Caputo, whose 67th District straddles the Fairfax-Loudoun line below Herndon and Sterling. Caputo has served just two terms, and he entered office in 2006 after beating a conservative Republican, Chris Craddock, who had knocked off Republican incumbent Gary Reese in a primary. Notably, Caputo earned Reese's endorsement that first year.

Poisson, in eastern Loudoun County's 32nd District, also has served just two terms, after coming to office in 2006 by beating another conservative Republican: Dick Black. Poisson became known as one of the hardest working candidates of the year, knocking on thousands of doors and talking endlessly about transportation and growth as a way to provide contrast to Black's focus on social issues.

Vanderhye has served only a single term, winning an open seat after the retirement of moderate Republican (and former House Appropriations chairman) Vince Callahan.

In other words: All three seats have been held recently by Republicans. All feature Democrats who won by presenting themselves as pragmatic moderates either in contrast to their opponents or, in the case of Vanderhye, in line with her predecessor. And all present opportunities for Republican challengers to recapture districts with lots of independent voters who don't always vote for the same party.

So here's the competition. Jim LeMunyon, a 26-year resident of Northern Virginia, is challenging Caputo in the 67th. A technology entrepreneur and a former congressional chief of staff, LeMunyon's taking no prisoners: He sent out a mail piece this week slamming Caputo for missing one day of a special transportation session last year. (Update: Caputo said he was ready to return if it appeared there would be a close vote that he could have had an impact on, but everything that day was passed or rejected by lopsided margins.).

Tag Greason, who is challenging Poisson in the 32nd, is a businessman, Army veteran, soccer coach and scout leader who lives in Ashburn. Greason ran unsuccessfully for school board in the past and has a rich history of civic involvement during his six years living in the 32nd. He even used to talk frequently to Poisson about being a legislator. Not so much anymore.

Barbara Comstock, challenging Vanderhye in the 34th, is a veteran Washington operative. Now a partner in her own lobbying firm, Comstock is a former communications director at the Department of Justice, the former chief counsel to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a former senior aide to U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).

It's worth noting that all three of these districts lie (all or in part) within the 10th Congressional District, a solidly Republican territory represented by Wolf and stretching from McLean through Fairfax and Loudoun and all the way west to Winchester.

It's also worth noting that all three of the challengers are using the playbooks of Democrats who have won in Northern Virginia or statewide in recent elections. They are talking about pro-business policies, transportation, protecting education. They are staying away from social issues. And they are knocking on lots of doors.

And finally, it's worth noting that depending on who's talking, all of these Democrats are safe, none of them are, or the really interesting races are elsewhere. So stay tuned. The names could change.

By Amy Gardner  |  September 15, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner , Election 2009 , General Assembly 2009  
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The 10th Congressional District is "solidly Republican territory"? Is this 100% conjecture or just 95%? Over 2/3 of the district population is in Loudoun or Fairfax county, and the district went for Obama in '08. Not exactly what I'd call "solidly Republican." "Solidly Wolf", sure, but if congressional representation is all that matters, that makes Rick Boucher's Southwest VA "solidly Democratic territory." Would you agree?

Posted by: antoniomelias | September 15, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

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