Davis May Opt for ’08 Retirement

Veteran Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who has been seen as a leading candidate to replace retiring Sen. John Warner (R) in 2008, may now be just a day away from announcing his own retirement from Congress.

Published reports Monday night indicated that Davis is rethinking his long-awaited Senate bid, and Congressional sources said Tuesday that a run for re-election also may be off the table for the seven-term Congressman.

A spokesman for Davis said Tuesday that the Congressman had yet to make any decision on a Senate bid that just weeks ago was considered to be a foregone conclusion.

“All that’s out there right now is speculation,” spokesman Brian McNicoll wrote in an e-mail. “Tom will make a decision and announcement when he’s ready, and that could be as early as Thursday” — when the Congressman is scheduled to appear at a breakfast for reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

Davis’ Senate chances, which already were considered to be tough against the likely Democratic nominee, popular former Gov. Mark Warner, were dealt a setback earlier this month when state Republicans decided to hold a nominating convention rather than a primary to determine their candidate for the seat. As a moderate on social issues, Davis was expected to have an uphill fight at the GOP convention, which is dominated by more-conservative party faithful.

Now some knowledgeable sources on Capitol Hill are saying that if he’s not moving up then Davis likely will be moving out, regardless of the fact that he would be a strong favorite for an eighth term in 2008.

Davis admitted earlier this year that he considered retiring before the 2006 election. He said he decided to run again in part because he believed the poor political climate in the previous cycle would have enabled Democrats to pick up his Northern Virginia seat.

If Davis were to leave when his term is up in 2008, his suburban Washington, D.C., seat again would be in danger of flipping to the Democrats. But with Republicans likely to remain in the minority in the House and another Senate race in Virginia still five years off, it is unclear whether Davis is still motivated to hold the line for the GOP in the 11th district — especially when he could be making large sums of money across town on K Street.

In 2006, Davis acknowledged that he passed up an offer to head the National Federation of Independent Business in 2005. That job would have reportedly given him a million-dollar-plus salary.

But as one Republican source pointed out Tuesday, if Davis did have any ambitions of eventually challenging Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) in 2012, then “his going and working for NFIB or any lobbying shop would probably hurt any chance he would have of a future in statewide office” since he would be labeled as another Washington lobbyist.

In addition, Davis’ wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R), is in the middle of a tough re-election battle for her Fairfax County seat. If she loses and Davis decides not to run for another Congressional term in 2008, the family’s political influence in Virginia would be greatly diminished.

Regardless of what he does, Davis’ decision has a number of implications in both the Senate and House. If Davis does not run for the Senate, it would take away the biggest current nomination threat to former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), who has not declared his candidacy but has said he intends to run for Warner’s seat. But Davis’ departure also might encourage another well-known Republican in the House to take a second look at the seat that Davis had long ago told colleagues he was preparing to run for.

John Warner told The Washington Post earlier this month that the strongest GOP nominee for his seat would be someone with Congressional experience, and he named Davis along with Reps. Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte as well-qualified for the job.

National GOP officials, who have been forced to defend a number of seats due to retirements, would be happy to see Davis — and a war chest that topped $1 million as of Sept. 30 — back for another term.

“We obviously hope that he would decide to stay in the House but we would certainly respect his decision no matter the outcome,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain.

Though Davis had been widely expected to run for the Senate there has been little activity among Republicans seeking to pick up the GOP mantle in the 11th, with the notable exception of Keith Fimian, a businessman based in Oakton, Va., who reported more than $433,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter.

A spokesman for Fimian said his boss had no comment Tuesday about the possibility of Davis not making the jump to the Senate race.

Democratic candidates in the 11th include former Rep. Leslie Byrne, who held the seat for one term in the mid-1990s before losing her re-election campaign to Davis. More recently, Byrne served in the state Senate and ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2005.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly, who is favored to win re-election in two weeks, is another strong Democratic candidate mentioned for the race, but some Democrats said he would be more likely to run if it were an open seat. Democrats already are licking their lips at the thought of another Republican seat being in play in 2008.

“Regardless of whether Tom Davis is on the ballot or not, Northern Virginia is changing and Republicans are increasingly out of touch on the issues that matter to the voters in this area,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kyra Jennings.