Potential Davis Successors Lining Up in NoVa District

Centrist Rep. Would Make Senate Bid if Warner Retires

Posted April 11, 2007 at 6:14pm



Correction Appended

With Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) publicly dangling the likelihood of running for Senate next year — if a vacancy occurs — it’s hard to miss the quiet rumblings about who might run to replace the moderate lawmaker should this term be his last.

Davis is eyeing a Senate bid in the event Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) decides to forgo re-election. Warner has signaled that he’s ready to run again, but won’t make a final decision until this summer.

Even if Warner does seek re-election, Davis has not yet said for certain that he will run for an eighth term in the 11th district that spans across the burgeoning Northern Virginia suburbs.

If the seat were to open up, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly (D) is all but certain to run. Connolly is widely viewed as the 800-pound gorilla in the race and would be the instant frontrunner for the Democratic nod.

Connolly is seeking re-election in November and has not committed to serving out his four-year term if he wins.

Davis was Fairfax board chairman when he was elected to Congress in 1994, having served on the board since 1979.

Still, it remains to be seen if Connolly will get a free pass from other Democrats — especially former Rep. Leslie Byrne (D-Va.). Byrne lost her seat to Davis in 1994, and has since served in the state Senate and was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2005.

Among Republicans it is less clear who would run to replace Davis, a social moderate who often has found himself at odds with his party’s leadership.

The four names most often mentioned as possible or likely candidates are state Sen. Jay O’Brien, state Del. Tim Hugo, newly elected Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and Sean Connaughton, who is now head of the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Stewart succeeded Connaughton, who was Prince William County board chairman for six years and is viewed as the closest ally of Davis. Connaughton ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2005, losing the Republican nomination to much more conservative then-state Sen. Bill Bolling. Davis was viewed as the architect behind Connaughton’s campaign, which was seen in many GOP circles as a test run for his own statewide ambitions.

In a February interview with Roll Call, Davis — a former two-term chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee — indicated that he would not abandon the seat without having a candidate in mind.

“I think we can hold the seat with the right candidate,” he said. “I haven’t made any decisions on anything at this point, but if I were to leave I’ll make sure we had a strong candidate lined up. I’ve spent too much time building majorities as campaign chairman to just desert this seat.”

But there is little doubt in most local observers’ minds that an open-seat contest would become the latest showdown between the ideological factions of the party.

“Conservatives will feel their oats over that seat,” said one Republican in the state, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 11th district, like the Northern Virginia suburbs as a whole, has trended more and more toward Democrats in recent years. Davis has argued that Republicans must reach out to moderates to remain electorally viable in the region.

Any open-seat race for the GOP nod is likely to be crowded because Virginia holds off-year legislative elections and therefore most candidates will not have to relinquish their current positions.

Connaughton would have to give up his maritime post to run, but the other candidates would not.

Stewart, formerly the Occoquan supervisor on the board, is an international trade attorney at Foley & Lardner LLP in Washington.

O’Brien, who represents portions of both Fairfax and Prince William counties, served 10 years in the House of Delegates before being elected to the state Senate in 2002.

Hugo’s district is confined to a portion of Fairfax. But he also has close ties to Capitol Hill as a former chief of staff to then-Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.). He also worked for former Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.).

Elected in 2002, Hugo currently serves as a consultant for the Livingston Group, the lobbying firm run by ex-Rep. Bob Livingston (R-Va.).

Connolly, meanwhile, is a former staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Correction: April 13
The April 12 article “Potential Davis Successors Lining Up in NoVa District” incorrectly reported the Senate committee for which Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly (D) once worked. He was a staffer on the Foreign Relations Committee for 10 years.