A Bat­tle Royal for Con­trol of Both Houses

Fair­fax May Prove Key as Democrats Seek to Gain, and Repub­li­cans to Re­tain, Ma­jori­ties

The Washington Post Sunday - - Virginia - By Tim Craig

Let the bat­tle be­gin. With the 2007 leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­hind them and the seats of all 140 del­e­gates and sen­a­tors up for elec­tion in the fall, Vir­ginia Repub­li­cans and Democrats have started slug­ging it out for con­trol of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Fair­fax County could de­ter­mine the out­come.

Gov. Ti­mothy M. Kaine ( D) and his al­lies hope to make sig­nif­i­cant in­roads in the Repub­li­can- con­trolled House of Del­e­gates and Se­nate. Democrats need to pick up four seats in the Se­nate and 11 in the House to re­gain power, a dif­fi­cult task in an elec­tion that his­tor­i­cally draws fewer vot­ers to the polls than an even- year elec­tion.

But an­a­lysts are pre­dict­ing a nasty, ex­pen­sive cam­paign as Democrats try to build on their re­cent statewide suc­cesses at the same time Repub­li­cans are out to prove they still have the up­per hand in his­tor­i­cally con­ser­va­tive Vir­ginia.

“ It is go­ing to be trench war­fare,” said Ray Allen, a long­time Rich­mond- based Repub­li­can strate­gist.

The hard­est- fought con­tests could be in Fair­fax, where three in­cum­bent Repub­li­can state sen­a­tors are gear­ing up for what could be the fight of their ca­reers.

Democrats are tar­get­ing Repub­li­can Sens. Ken Cuc­cinelli II, Jean­nemarie Devo­lites Davis and James K. “ Jay” O’Brien Jr., who rep­re­sent Fair­fax dis­tricts where a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers chose Kaine in 2005 and U. S. Sen. James Webb ( D-Va.) last year.

The out­come of those races Nov. 6 could shape state pol­icy and pol­i­tics for more than a decade be­cause this will be the last state Se­nate cam­paign be­fore con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive re­dis­trict­ing in 2011.

If Repub­li­cans keep con­trol of the House and Se­nate and win back the gov­er­nor’s man­sion in 2009, the party will be able to draw the leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional dis­trict bound­aries in a way that helps en­sure that GOP in­cum­bents dom­i­nate for the next decade.

To stop that from oc­cur­ring, Kaine is teaming with other party lead­ers to pour at least $ 1 mil­lion into this fall’s races.

Last month, Kaine, Webb, for­mer gov­er­nor Mark R. Warner, U. S. Reps. James P. Mo­ran Jr. and Robert C. “ Bobby” Scott and Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Ger­ald E. Con­nolly met over din­ner at a posh Wash­ing­ton restau­rant to be­gin plot­ting a cam­paign strat­egy for Democrats.

“ I en­joy the fact the Demo­cratic Party was on the ropes un­til 2001 and now we are seen as a com­pet­i­tive party, and I want to make sure we stay there,” Kaine said in an in­ter­view.

Repub­li­can lead­ers say the party can­not af­ford to un­der­es­ti­mate Kaine, whom they de­scribe as more par­ti­san than re­cent Demo­cratic gov­er­nors such as Warner.

“ We will be at a dis­ad­van­tage fi­nan­cially,” said House Speaker William J. Howell ( R- Stafford). “ The gov­er­nor can raise a lot of money. Mark Warner has a lot of money. . . . It is tough for us to com­pete, but th­ese races are run at the grass- roots level, and we have good strength at the grass­roots level.”

Repub­li­cans hold a 57 to 40 edge over Democrats in the House, with three in­de­pen­dents. Howell pre­dicts that Repub­li­cans will pick up two House seats, but Democrats say they ex­pect to gain as many as six.

Democrats are start­ing their cam­paign, how­ever, amid con­sid­er­able up­heaval. Last month, Demo­cratic del­e­gates ousted their mi­nor­ity leader, Franklin P. Hall ( Rich­mond), say­ing they did not think he was ef­fec­tive. Last week, the chief fundraiser for House and Se­nate Democrats, Ellen Stankwitz, re­signed af­ter a dis­pute with Del. Brian J. Mo­ran ( D- Alexan­dria), chair­man of the House Demo­cratic cau­cus.

Kaine and his fel­low Democrats are also dis­cov­er­ing that Ed Gillespie, the Vir­ginia Repub­li­can Party’s new chair­man, is a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent. Gillespie, for­mer chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, has been us­ing his ex­ten­sive con­tacts across the coun­try to help the state party raise money to try to match Kaine’s ef­fort. For­mer New York mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani, for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor Mitt Rom­ney and U. S. Sen. John McCain ( Ariz.) have ap­peared or are sched­uled to be at party fundrais­ers.

Repub­li­cans say they have en­hanced their stand­ing with North­ern Vir­ginia vot­ers be­cause the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, af­ter years of feud­ing, re­cently ap­proved a trans­porta­tion pack­age that boosts fund­ing for roads and gives lo­cal gov­ern­ments more tools to slow growth. The party also plans to high­light its sup­port for leg­is­la­tion to crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, ex­pand the death penalty and make it harder for the gov­ern­ment to seize private prop­erty, GOP strate­gists said.

Strate­gist Allen, who spe­cial­izes in cre­at­ing di­rect mail pieces for can­di­dates, said, “ From a guy who make his liv­ing help­ing elect Repub­li­cans, we have a very, very strong, com­pelling mes­sage.”

Democrats, who cite Pres­i­dent Bush’s low ap­proval rat­ings and pub­lic con­cern over the war in Iraq, counter that the im­age of the Repub­li­can Party is badly tar­nished in North­ern Vir­ginia. Democrats also plan to stress Kaine’s and Warner’s records of at­tract­ing jobs and in­vest­ing in trans­porta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, health care and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“ I think there is cer­tainly dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the Repub­li­cans gen­er­ally,” Con­nolly said of Fair­fax vot­ers. “ I think there is a day of reck­on­ing com­ing on how they do their jobs and the re­sults they come home with. . . . There has been a steady march by our vot­ers to purge the ide­o­logues and re­place them with prag­ma­tists.”

Since 2001, Repub­li­cans have lost six House seats and one Se­nate seat in North­ern Vir­ginia. But state leg­isla­tive races have tra­di­tion­ally been de­cided on lo­cal is­sues and per­son­al­i­ties, a dy­namic that could help in­cum­bent Repub­li­cans this year.

“ Any Demo­crat who runs against a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent needs to make a case as to why they would do a bet­ter job as an in­di­vid­ual rep­re­sent­ing that dis­trict,” said Devo­lites Davis, who is be­ing chal­lenged by for­mer del­e­gate J. Chap­man “ Chap” Petersen ( D- Fair­fax).

To suc­ceed, Kaine has to find a way to drive up turnout in North­ern Vir­ginia by mak­ing the elec­tion a generic con­test about the Repub­li­can brand in­stead of about in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates, many in­de­pen­dent ob­servers say.

The strat­egy could be risky be­cause it could also en­er­gize Repub­li­can vot­ers. For­mer gov­er­nor Ge­orge Allen ( R) had lim­ited suc­cess when he tried a sim­i­lar strat- egy in 1995.

“ Allen beat tons of Demo­cratic in­cum­bents, but he also lost the Repub­li­can in­cum­bents who were in Demo­cratic dis­tricts,” said Ben Trib­bett, a po­lit­i­cal blog­ger who spe­cial­izes in hand­i­cap­ping state leg­isla­tive races.

But some in­ter­est groups are plan­ning to raise the stakes this fall. Three mod­er­ate Repub­li­can sen­a­tors are re­tir­ing, and con­ser­va­tives are try­ing to un­seat sev­eral oth­ers in the June 12 pri­mary. If con­ser­va­tives gain more in­flu­ence in the Se­nate, law­mak­ers in both par­ties pre­dict that it could lead to fur­ther re­stric­tions on abor­tion rights.

“ We will fo­cus on the fact we need to get Democrats back in con­trol of the Se­nate,” said Ann O’Han­lon, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NARAL/ Pro- Choice Vir­ginia. O’Brien, Cuc­cinelli and Devo­lites Davis op­pose abor­tion.

Corey A. Ste­wart ( R), chair­man of the Prince William Board of County Su­per­vi­sors, said GOP can­di­dates in North­ern Vir­ginia will stay fo­cused on dis­cussing qual­ity- of- life is­sues, such as traf­fic and ed­u­ca­tion.

“ For the first time this year, the leg­is­la­ture ad­dressed those things in­stead of things like putting the Ten Com­mand­ments in schools,” Ste­wart said. “ To that ex­tent, it seems Repub­li­cans have fi­nally got­ten the mes­sage what they need to do to win.”

Fair­fax Repub­li­can state Sens. Ken Cuc­cinelli II, left, Jean­nemarie Devo­lites Davis and James K. “Jay” O’Brien Jr. are ex­pect­ing tough chal­lenges from Democrats.

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