- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia yesterday announced that he would not seek re-election, joining 23 fellow House Republicans who have called it quits since the Democrats won the majority in 2006.

“After much soul-searching and discussion with those closest to me, I have decided the time is right to take a sabbatical from public life,” he said

Mr. Davis said he was unsure what he will do in the private sector, but pledged to remain “an active contributor to Republican causes.”

“I want to emphasize that I am not closing the door on future public service, but after 29 years in office, winning 11 elections, I think it is time for a respite,” said Mr. Davis, 59, the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

He said he was confident that his party would retain the 11th District seat in Northern Virginia, which he has held since the 1994 election.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said was a “a true public servant” who fought for government accountability, ethics reform and a stronger economy and was a tireless advocate for his constituents.

“The people of Northern Virginia have come to rely on Republican representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, and I believe they will continue to support a congressman who fights for lower taxes and a stronger economy,” he said.

But Mr. Davis’ departure continues a shake-up of Virginia Republicans, including Sen. George Allen’s 2006 election defeat and Sen. John W. Warner’s announcement last summer that he will not seek a sixth term. The race to replace Mr. Davis, whose exit has been rumored for months, is already under way.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Leslie L. Byrne, whom Mr. Davis unseated in 1994, is running, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly has formed an exploratory committee.

Republican businessman Keith Fimian, who has raised at least $700,00 in campaign cash, yesterday jumped into the race. Other Republicans eyeing the seat include state Delegate Tim Hugo of Fairfax County and former at-large Fairfax County School Board member Steve Hunt.

“It’s going to be really tough” to keep the seat, said state Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, whom Mr. Davis mentored.

“Tom is one of the best campaigners, and he is perfect for the district because he is right in the middle [politically],” he said. “That is what you need to win that district.”

John Hager, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the presidential contest could energize the base and help the party hang onto the seat.

“There is a long way to go before November,” he said.

Democrats say Mr. Davis’ exit opens the door for them to pick up another House seat, thanks to voters who increasingly lean Democratic in Northern Virginia — a shift that has diminished Mr. Davis’ margin of victory in recent elections.

Mr. Davis for years warned state Republicans to tone down the conservative rhetoric or risk alienating voters in burgeoning Northern Virginia, possibly costing the party in statewide races. Virginia Republicans have lost a series of elections — in 2005, when Democrat Tim Kaine was elected governor; in 2006, when Mr. Allen was ousted; and in 2007, when Democrats won a narrow majority in the state Senate.

Mr. Davis last year considered a run for the seat being vacated by the retirement of Mr. Warner, but he decided against it. His chances unraveled when the state central committee voted in October to select its nominee to replace Mr. Warner through a convention, rather than a primary.

The decision was widely seen as a victory for former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, whose conservative credentials were more philosophically aligned with the grass-roots activists who will decide the party’s nominee at a convention in May.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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