House Democrats Hitch Wagon to Warner

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 18, 2005

Gov. Mark R. Warner brought fellow Democrats to their feet yesterday at the party's central committee meeting in Fredericksburg with the message that House candidates are hoping will carry them to victory.

"We as Democrats have shown what Democratic leadership can do in terms of moving our state forward," Warner told a crowd of about 200. "It was the commonwealth of Virginia, under Democratic leadership, that was named the best-managed state in the nation."

Like Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in the gubernatorial race, Democrats in the House of Delegates campaign are hoping that Warner's popularity will rub off on them in the Nov. 8 election as they try to whittle away at the GOP majority's 60 seats.

"I'm going to be out campaigning . . . virtually every week from now until this election," Warner told the Democrats.

Republicans will counter by focusing attention on a set of policy initiatives they announced over the summer, including plans to end the state estate tax, create a back-to-school tax holiday for school-related purchases and ban local governments from using eminent domain to take private property and give it to developers.

"It shows once again that we're the caucus of ideas, that we're putting forward policy solutions for voters," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said last week. "I haven't seen any ideas or new policies that our Democratic opponents hope to run on."

Although all 100 seats in the House are up for election, the races will play out in the shadow of the statewide campaigns for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Many of the seats are so securely in the hands of Republicans or Democrats that they are uncontested, but each party has identified a handful of districts they hope to turn in their favor.

Republicans have lost four seats since hitting a high of 64 in 2001. But GOP leaders say that they have identified at least three Democratic seats -- in Fairfax County, on the Eastern Shore and in Southwest Virginia -- that they feel confident they can win.

Democrats, who hold 38 seats, also hope to win at least three more, targeting races in Northern and Southwest Virginia.

Party leaders say that Warner's popularity gives them a powerful advantage.

In a Washington Post poll taken Sept. 6 to 9, 76 percent of voters approved of the job he is doing. In an attempt to capitalize, the party's candidates are closely associating themselves with Warner's name and his success in winning passage of last year's tax package, which raised money for education, public safety and health care.

"We plan to pound away at the fact that we are the party of fiscal responsibility and investment," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

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