- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Virginia Republicans could learn today who their candidate for the 4th Congressional District seat will be, amid speculation by some state GOP members that the nomination battle is a test between surrogates for U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III and Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
Mr. Davis, the man who heads the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC), is backing state Sen. J. Randy Forbes in the nomination fight, while Mr. Gilmores political action committee director is running the campaign of Delegate M. Kirkland Cox.
In Suffolk today, Mr. Forbes has a chance to capture the votes he needs to win the nomination. Last week he won 354 delegate votes in Portsmouth and his hometown of Chesapeake. It takes 401 votes to win the nomination, which will happen at a convention on Saturday.
"This is the biggest battle within the alliance in some time, said one state Republican politico, while another called it "a little dust-up" for them.
But folks from both races and both camps say theres no schism.
"It has nothing to do with that — the governor has not injected himself in the race; he has directed his staff not to inject themselves in the race," said Ray Allen, the director of Mr. Gilmores PAC but also consultant to Mr. Coxs campaign.
"Tom Davis job is to win House seats. Thats his goal in the 4th District of Virginia," said an NRCC spokesman.
And thats why the 4th District is so critical.
The seat is open because of the death last month of Democratic Rep. Norman Sisisky. The district — considered a swing seat — stretches from the city of Chesapeake, on the North Carolina border, to Amelia, which is southwest of Richmond. If a Republican wins, it would add to the partys margin in Congress. And it also would tilt the Virginia delegation to seven Republicans, three Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Republicans.
Mr. Forbes and other supporters cite polls showing he has the best chance of winning, and even Mr. Allen says his candidate faces an uphill battle — which explains why Washington Republicans have lined up behind Mr. Forbes. But state House Republicans, including the speaker of the House, have lined up behind their fellow delegate, Mr. Cox.
Caught in the cross fire of the two big-name candidates is Woody Harris, the vice mayor of Emporia who is also running for the nomination.
Mr. Sisiskys sudden death is part of the reason the rift is there. Mr. Cox has been angling for the seat for several years, while Mr. Forbes was in the midst of running for lieutenant governor. But after Mr. Sisiskys death, members of the Washington power structure called Mr. Forbes to ask him to run, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, the White House political operation and Mr. Davis.
That was enough to clear out other Republicans who had been interested in running, but not Mr. Cox. The two men announced their candidacies in the same room at the state Capitol, 24 hours apart.
Both campaigns lament the fact that there isnt a unified ticket at this point. "No question we would have had a much clearer shot at winning this seat if this had happened," Mr. Forbes said — but both also deny any larger rift.
Mr. Davis and Mr. Gilmore have worked well together for Virginia. In 1999, when the entire General Assembly was up for election, Mr. Gilmore raised $4 million for Republican candidates and got much of the credit for gaining the first GOP majority in state history, but Mr. Davis also directed a half-million dollars to state races and his operation lent critical support.
But both men also were widely seen to have their eye on Republican John Warners U.S. Senate seat, and many Republicans had anticipated an eventual contest between the two.
Democrats see the race as a sign of the fracturing of the Republican Party in the state.
But Republicans see it as a sign of a healthy party with a wealth of candidates.
"In the old days, we didnt have nominees. Now that the once-mighty Democratic Party is a decrepit shell of its former self, it is they who have to come up with businessmen who can self-finance their own race and it is Republicans who have an embarrassment of riches," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party.
The special election for the seat will be held June 19. Democrats hold a primary the week before, and two candidates — state Sen. L. Louise Lucas from Portsmouth and businesswoman Jo Ann Walthall — are vying for the nomination.


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