- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2008

Virginia Republicans are expected to lose one or more congressional seats in Tuesday’s elections but maintain their majority in the state’s House delegation, while voters in other states appear ready to substantially increase the Democrats’ hold on Congress.

“By and large the incumbents are in pretty good shape in most districts in Virginia,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a professor of political communication at George Mason University in Fairfax. But “there are some districts [that] in a very Democratic year could be a problem for the Republicans.”

Political forecasters are predicting that Democrats will pick up about 30 seats this year, bolstering a congressional majority they captured in 2006. Virginia Republicans in 2001 redrew district lines to help their party’s candidates, but still stand to see their 8-3 lead in the state’s House caucus shrink.

In the state’s 11th District - a wealthy parcel of Northern Virginia that includes portions of Fairfax and Prince William counties - the Democrat vying to replace retiring Republican lawmaker Thomas M. Davis III is banking in part on his familiarity with voters to carry him Tuesday.

“The name recognition is not accidental, it’s because I earned it,” said Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who is battling Republican businessman Keith S. Fimian to take Mr. Davis’ seat.

Mr. Davis, a moderate Republican, has represented the Democratic-leaning district since 1995. Mr. Connolly’s litany of local titles - including Board of Supervisors chairman - have given him recognition Mr. Fimian lacks.

But the Republican counters that Mr. Connolly, 58, is “not well liked.” He said Fairfax County has seen skyrocketing taxes under Mr. Connolly’s watch while also facing a budget deficit approaching $500 million in fiscal 2010 that the Democrat failed to prepare for.

If elected, Mr. Connolly said he hopes to be named to House committees dealing with transportation and government reform - two areas that directly affect the 11th District’s clogged roads and government-affiliated workforce.

Mr. Fimian, 52, an accountant and founder of the home inspection company U.S. Inspect, said he would bring a businessman’s approach to Washington and aim to balance the federal budget. He also vows he would eliminate wasteful spending and duplication among federal programs.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calls the 11th District one of its top “Red to Blue” targets this year. The Crystal Ball Web analysis headed by Larry J. Sabato - founder of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia - also calls the race a likely Democratic pickup.

The race in the state’s 2nd District offers Democrats another shot. Republican incumbent Thelma Drake - who narrowly won re-election in 2006 by about 5,000 votes - is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Glenn C. Nye III, a former foreign service officer in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Nye, 34, has tried to peg Mrs. Drake, 58, as a partisan politician and said military voters in the region, which includes Virginia Beach and part of Norfolk and Hampton, relate well to his candidacy.

Mrs. Drake, meanwhile, has noted that she went against President Bush in opposing the financial bailout of Wall Street and touted her work on a bipartisan energy bill.

The Cook Political Report recently dubbed the race a “toss-up,” although a recent poll conducted by Research 2000 for the Web site Daily Kos showed Mrs. Drake with a 14-point lead.

Mr. Nye’s chances could hinge on how many voters show up in support of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, said Mr. Farnsworth of George Mason.

In the 5th District - which covers an area from roughly Charlottesville to Danville - attorney and newcomer Thomas Stuart Price Perriello, 34, is hoping to unseat six-term incumbent Virgil H. Goode Jr., 62, who first entered office as a Democrat but switched to an independent in 2000 and a Republican in 2002.

Mr. Goode’s lead shrank from 34 points to 13 points between August and October, according to polls by Survey USA.

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