Davis Officially Announces Sabbatical-Like Exit

Posted January 30, 2008 at 6:36pm

Calling it a sabbatical rather than a retirement, Rep. Tom Davis (R) announced Wednesday that he would not seek an eighth term in Virginia’s 11th district this November.

Davis’ departure brings the total number of House Republican retirements this cycle to just shy of 30 and puts GOP control of his suburban Washington, D.C., seat in serious jeopardy.

“I will serve out the remainder of my term, and plan to remain an active contributor to Republican causes, but will not run for office in 2008,” said Davis, who is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and served for two cycles as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Davis, 59, has one of the savviest political minds on Capitol Hill, and one of his successors, current NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), paid tribute to him on Wednesday.

“Tom Davis is a true public servant and a well respected member of our Republican Conference,” Cole said in a statement Wednesday. “While Chairman of the NRCC, Tom Davis defied history in an off-year election by picking up six seats. As a candidate myself in 2002, I was very pleased to have Tom as an ally in Washington, and I often sought his political advice and expertise.”

Davis, who just three months ago was widely expected to be a top Republican contender for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Warner (R), said, “I want to emphasize that I am not closing the door on future public service, but after 29 years in office, winning 11 elections, I think it is time for a respite.”

According to finance reports filed last week, Davis controls a campaign war chest of more than $1 million. Davis could hold on to that money for a future political run, but with the the cash-strapped NRCC being badly beaten in the fundraising battle by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Davis is sure to be pressured to contribute to the party’s cause this cycle.

Davis acknowledged last 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 Fairfax County seat. Although the 11th district was almost evenly split between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election, Davis said Wednesday that he is “confident we will keep this seat in Republican hands.”

But like most of Northern Virginia, the district appears to be trending away from the GOP, and many independent observers believe it represents one of the best pickup opportunities for House Democrats this cycle.

With Virginia’s filing deadline set for April 11, Republicans in the 11th district have time to coalesce around a candidate. But businessman Keith Fimian (R), who filed his statement of candidacy in August, already is raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

According to FEC reports, Fimian had $656,191 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

“Anyone who is able to put $700,000 together before the seat has even come open deserves to be taken seriously,” one GOP operative said.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic primary is shaping up to be a fight between Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly and former Rep. Leslie Byrne.

In 1992, Byrne became the first woman elected to Congress in the commonwealth. But she went on to lose her Congressional seat to Davis after just one term. More recently, Byrne served in the state Senate and then ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2005.

Connolly was being recruited by Democratic officials last year when he was in the midst of his board of supervisors re-election campaign. Connolly’s campaign announced Monday that it had brought in $160,000 in the three weeks since launching an exploratory committee, and he is expected to formally launch his candidacy in a matter of weeks.

In a statement on Wednesday, Connolly thanked Davis for his years of service to the district.

“While we’re on different sides of the political aisle, I have deep respect for anyone willing to serve in the arena of public service,” Connolly said. “For representing our community these past 30 years, he deserves our deep gratitude. I wish him well in his new endeavors.”

But Democrats clearly aren’t too sad to see Davis go.

“Davis saw the writing on the wall — Northern Virginians are ready for change and want a Representative who is in line with their priorities,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said on Wednesday. “We have a strong field of candidates and hope to turn Virginia a bit more blue this year.”

Davis is considered by his colleagues to be one the brightest political minds in the House. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) once called him an “encyclopedia on politics.”

Davis guided the NRCC through the 2000 and 2002 election cycles and oversaw GOP gains in the last round of Congressional redistricting. Yet he is also known as a social moderate who reaches across the aisle. He was a leader in recent years in efforts to gain full voting rights for the District of Columbia. In that battle, he has found a close ally in D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).