- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

Some political analysts are forecasting a Democratic tsunami in this year’s congressional races, and at the tip of the tidal wave sits Virginia’s 11th Congressional District.

Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the seat held by Republican moderate Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who is giving up the seat he has held since 1995, is by far the most bitterly fought of five congressional nomination battles, all of them in Northern Virginia and three of them among Democrats.

The 11th District includes suburbs in and around the Capital Beltway, including much of Fairfax County, the wealthiest in the nation, and Prince William County.

Mr. Davis’ electoral success masked some of the changes in a district that helped push the state from a Republican stronghold to a swing state. While Mr. Davis won re-election in 2006 with 55 percent of the vote, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb won 55 percent of the vote in the district in his upset victory over incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen in the state’s last U.S. Senate race.

Four Democrats, including two political heavyweights in Northern Virginia politics, are seeking the nomination Tuesday.

The two leading candidates are longtime rivals: Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and former Rep. Leslie L. Byrne, who held the seat for one term before losing it to Mr. Davis in the Republicans’ 1994 landslide takeover of Congress.

Two others, Iraq war veteran Doug Denneny and physical therapist Lori Alexander, are also on the ballot.

Mrs. Byrne says the political climate has changed nationally and especially within the district, and the issues and votes that worked against her in 1994 - like her support for gun-control legislation and the Clinton administration’s budget - will be an asset this year.

Also, she argues that her previous term in Congress is important because she will regain her seniority if re-elected, giving her a better chance to land plum committee assignments over a typical freshman.

“I am starting out as a sophomore,” Mrs. Byrne said.

But Mr. Connolly questions Mrs. Byrne’s electability, given that she was only able to hold the seat for one term. Mrs. Byrne also narrowly lost her race in 2005 for lieutenant governor.

“I’ve never lost an election,” Mr. Connolly said. “If Democrats want to win the seat, we’ve got to look at who can win the seat and hold it.”

Mrs. Byrne counters that in her close 2005 loss to Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, she actually carried the 11th District handily.

On the issues, the candidates largely agree. Both oppose the Iraq war and support abortion rights. Mr. Connolly has close ties to the region’s influential business community, while Mrs. Byrne has strong support from organized labor.

Mr. Connolly, though, bristles at being pigeonholed as a pro-business candidate. He cites labor support from police and firefighters unions, and says the hallmark of his political career has been building coalitions between disparate groups, like business and environmental leaders.

Mr. Connolly also cites his experience in county government: The county has the highest median income in the nation, the schools have an excellent reputation and county government has won awards for its management practices.

Both candidates have received high-profile endorsements: Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine endorsed Mr. Connolly, while Mr. Webb is backing Mrs. Byrne.

Mr. Denneny, who is making his first run for elected office, has waged an aggressive campaign highlighting his military experience, which included service as a squadron commander for Navy fighter jets in the Iraq war as well as legislative work for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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