In Debate, Barbs on Iraq War and GOP Scandals

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 7, 2006

Two Fairfax County Democrats vying for their party's nomination for Congress sharply criticized President Bush, the Iraq war and a scandal-plagued Republican Party yesterday at a forum, where they said incumbent Thomas M. Davis III (R) epitomized Washington's "culture of corruption."

"The war in Iraq is undermining our economy, destroying our leadership in the world and undermining our future," Ken Longmyer said. He said that Congress "has squandered the vital support of our allies and is misspending our children's legacy."

Andrew Hurst said, "What's lacking is a Congress that has a culture of doing the right thing."

The two men will face off June 13 in the Democratic primary. The winner will face Davis in the 11th Congressional District, which includes Fairfax City and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, in the November general election.

Although the political climate favors Democrats, the 11th District is not likely to change parties, political experts said. Voters there are solidly Republican and have elected Davis to Congress six times. Two years ago, Davis captured 60 percent of the vote, beating Longmyer by a 22-point margin.

Nonetheless, Democrats see an opening in a year marked by a souring of the national mood about the war in Iraq, high gas prices, immigration battles and Washington scandals.

Polls show that voters are fed up with their leaders and are willing to vote for Democrats, a switch in public opinion that members of the party say gives them a chance for an upset.

"It's not a good year for incumbents," said George Burke, chairman of the 11th Congressional District Democratic Committee, who moderated the forum. "We have a real opportunity here."

Many local Democrats also believe that the 11th District is becoming more liberal, along with much of the rest of Northern Virginia. As evidence, they note that the 11th District went strongly for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the other statewide Democratic candidates last fall. Bush narrowly defeated Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 11th District in 2004.

Calls to the Davis campaign and to the chairman of the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee were not returned.

In addition to their opposition to the war and the Bush administration, the candidates spoke at the Green Acres Center in Fairfax about the economy, health care, immigration, education and same-sex marriage.

Hurst, a partner in the law firm Reed Smith LLP, called for an increase in the federal minimum wage. "This economy is successful, but the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," Hurst said.

Longmyer, a former teacher who has held numerous positions in the State Department and other agencies, said that most Americans are caught in a "middle-class squeeze" that prevents them from being financially comfortable.

He said that record budget deficits threaten the nation's economy and that "we have to start building down debt for our children's sake."

The candidates differed on whether the nation's immigration situation is a crisis. Longmyer said that there was a crisis and that the "system is broken right now. Just because a terrorist hasn't come across our southern border doesn't mean they won't."

Hurst dismissed the "crisis" label and said that Republicans were attempting to fan fear about illegal immigrants to create a wedge issue. "It's time for Democrats to stand up and not accept the Republicans' language," he said.

Hurst added that "putting a wall across the southern border is ridiculous."

Both candidates called for greater access to health care and reforms to the federal No Child Left Behind Act and for Virginians to defeat a November ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage.

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