Wittman’s Meteoric Rise

Posted December 12, 2007 at 6:11pm

After 19 years of serving on town councils and county boards of supervisors, Rep.-elect Rob Wittman’s (R-Va.) political career has taken a giant leap forward in the past two years.

Wittman, 48, was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2005, and on Tuesday he won the special election to replace the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R), who died in October after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

The Virginia State Board of Elections unofficial 1st district results gave Wittman 60 percent of the vote. Democrat Philip Forgit got 38 percent and Independent Lucky Narain earned 2 percent.

Wittman’s margin of victory over Forgit almost exactly matched President Bush’s winning margin in the district over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) during the 2004 White House contest. The result seemed to validate the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s decision to stay out of the special election in a Republican-leaning district that runs from Newport News to the Washington, D.C., exurbs — despite Democratic gains there in legislative elections last month.

In the unusually short special election period, which gave the candidates just a month to campaign after they were selected as their parties’ nominees, turnout was less than 20 percent. But Wittman said in an interview Wednesday that his supporters were motivated.

“We had a great great turnout of our supporters and people were plugged into what we were talking about, and I think they like the experience that I brought to the table,” he said. “Obviously we’d like to have a whole lot more but considering the time of year, the holiday season, the short duration of the campaign, folks having been through a political season just prior to that, all things considered it wasn’t too bad.”

It is expected that Wittman, like Davis and several of her predecessors, will be tapped to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, an important post for a district with a large military population. In the state House, Wittman served on the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. When he was campaigning with Wittman in November, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised the candidate his full support for the Armed Services assignment.

Wittman said a posting on the Energy and Commerce Committee also would be helpful for his district.

Outside of politics, Wittman’s work has focused on environmental health issues. After earning a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina and a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from Virginia Commonwealth University, Wittman spent most of his professional career working in various state and local health departments. He earned his undergraduate degree in biology at Virginia Tech.

Wittman and his wife, Kathryn, live in Montross, and they have two children, daughter Devon, 25, and son Josh, 20.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) was quick to describe Wittman’s victory as “more evidence that Americans are ready for real change in Washington.” The NRCC followed up with a memo latching on to that theme.

“In Virginia, Democrats had crowed about the political impact of their recent legislative victories in November, but chose not to play despite being presented with an opportunity,” the NRCC memo said.

The NRCC vastly outspent the DCCC on the special election, which didn’t sit well with some Virginia Democrats who believed the special election offered the best shot the party had for stealing the conservative stronghold from the GOP. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and former Gov. Mark Warner (D) campaigned with Forgit, and every Democrat in the Congressional delegation lent financial support.

On Wednesday, DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings defended the national party’s decision not to get involved in the race.

“Virginia’s 1st district has been reliably Republican for over 30 years, it’s been gerrymandered ruby red, and Govs. Kaine and Warner and Sen. [Jim] Webb [Va.] all lost this district,” Jennings said. “This race was a long shot at best because the largest block of undecided voters lives in the expensive Washington, D.C., media market and polling showed it was nearly impossible to overcome the Republican numbers in the district.”