Jockeying to Begin for Davis Seat

Posted October 9, 2007 at 6:29pm

The special election to fill the seat of Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.), who died over the weekend after a two-year battle with breast cancer, likely will not take place until December at the earliest.

A spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who under state law is charged with setting the date for a special election, said Tuesday that it is unlikely a 1st district contest to replace Davis would be added to November’s statewide legislative ballot.

“There’s a logistical challenge there, which is that the ballot has already been printed and the absentee voting has already started,” spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said. “It doesn’t make it impossible, but it makes it very, very challenging to add somebody to the ballot.”

But, Skinner added, out of respect for the late Congresswoman, who was the first female Republican elected to the House of Representatives from Virginia, Kaine will not be making any formal announcement about the special election before funeral services are held later this week.

Members are expected to gather in Newport News tonight for Davis’ memorial service, and her funeral will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Lighthouse Worship Center in Hayes. The House has canceled votes on Thursday for the funeral.

The 1st district is a reliably Republican seat that spans from the western suburbs of Washington, D.C., south to the Hampton Roads area. President Bush won the district in 2004 with 60 percent of the vote.

Once the special election date is set, each party’s district committee will decide whether its nominee be chosen via a primary or a convention.

Noting that there are few real Democratic strongholds in the district and that Republicans already have no shortage of candidates, one Democratic political consultant in the state called the 1st a “district from hell for Democrats.”

Shawn O’Donnell, who ran against Davis in 2006 and lost by nearly 28 points, is one early possibility to make the race, but Democratic sources say the search for a candidate has only just begun. Stealing the Republican district in a late 2007 or early 2008 special election would be considered a coup that Democrats would no doubt tout as a sign of Republican weakness heading into the 2008 election cycle.

But more than a dozen Republican names already have been floated for the seat, though potential candidates are predictably keeping a low profile in deference to the late Congresswoman.

The five GOP names that appear to top the list as of right now are Chuck Davis — the late Congresswoman’s husband who is a career firefighter — state Del. Robert Whitman, state Sen. Ryan McDougal, activist Paul Jost and Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

The Daily Press, a Hampton Roads newspaper, quoted a longtime Davis family friend as saying that Chuck Davis is “strongly considering” running for the post, but Davis himself declined to comment for the story.

Bolling would be a particularly intriguing candidate for the GOP, not only because of his high name identification but also because of the implications his candidacy might have on the state Senate. Bolling, whose job includes serving as president of the state Senate and casting the deciding vote in the case of a tie, could find himself overseeing a chamber that is split 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans after the November state legislative elections.

Regardless of his importance in Richmond, several officials and Commonwealth race watchers mentioned Bolling’s name for the 1st district on Tuesday.

“The party leadership from within the district and statewide is pushing Bill Bolling, the current lieutenant governor, and there is no one in my view that can beat Bill Bolling, not only in a primary but also in a general election,” said Chris LaCivita, a longtime GOP consultant who said he has no connection to any of the candidates considering the contest.

“He immediately begins with an advantage because any other candidate has to educate, motivate and turn out voters in a very short period of time. All [Bolling] has to do is motivate and turn out.”

A spokesman for Bolling declined to comment on speculation that his boss might run for the seat, instead pointing to a statement the lieutenant governor released over the weekend, in which he praised the work of Jo Ann Davis and described her as “a dependable conservative voice on the challenges of our time.”

Another Republican being mentioned for the race is Kevin O’Neill, a 37-year-old partner at the lobbying shop Patton Boggs. The Williamsburg resident who commutes to D.C. for work said Tuesday that “people that I trust in Congress, both staff and Members, have encouraged me to look at race. Right now the thing to do is salute the achievements of Mrs. Davis. After that I’m going to sit down with the folks I trust to see if it’s a viable opportunity.”

O’Neill added that if Chuck Davis does decide to run for the seat, “my support is behind him 100 percent and I’m going to raise money money for him and make sure he has the chance to finish out her term and follow through on her legacy and vision.”

In the 110th Congress, Davis served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and was ranking member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

Through a spokesman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the full Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that it was too soon to say who would take over Davis’ subcommittee ranking member duties.

“At this point, it is important to reflect on Jo Ann’s service and we will take up consideration of the matter once it is appropriate,” Hunter said. “Jo Ann worked tirelessly for both her constituents and Americans in uniform. She was a fearless legislator who never considered the politics of a defense vote, but only the consequences for our troops.”