Voters Wooed With Rings of Doorbells, Phones

Mark Ellmore, left, recently toured his former neighborhood, Virginia Hills, to talk with potential supporters ahead of Tuesday's Republican primary. Woody Henson, right, says his top concerns are immigration and transportation.
Mark Ellmore, left, recently toured his former neighborhood, Virginia Hills, to talk with potential supporters ahead of Tuesday's Republican primary. Woody Henson, right, says his top concerns are immigration and transportation. (Photos By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 10, 2006

On an unseasonably warm day, Mark Ellmore was sweating a bit as he made his way from door to door in Fairfax County, greeting potential voters in the Republican primary for the 8th Congressional District.

Ellmore, 47, is hoping that his hometown roots -- he grew up in the Virginia Hills neighborhood and graduated from Hayfield Secondary School -- will give him an edge Tuesday over his opponent, Tom O'Donoghue, who recently moved into the district from Springfield. O'Donoghue, 41, attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Yale University and is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

"I'm just a guy who was born and raised here," said Ellmore, a mortgage broker and motivational speaker, as he moved up the street of brick homes and the small rancher where he was reared.

Whichever newcomer prevails faces a formidable task in the fall: taking on eight-term incumbent Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D). James T. Hurysz, 59, an Arlington quality control expert, also will be running, as an independent.

After weathering controversies concerning his personal finances and public comments, Moran is in an enviable spot this year, with a hefty campaign fund and a relatively friendly district.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Moran has raised $889,573, Ellmore $14,748 and O'Donoghue $5,284.

The same afternoon that Ellmore was going door to door, O'Donoghue was sitting in the art-filled living room office of his new Kingstowne townhouse, which he shares with his wife and three children, making calls to supporters. He lives just blocks from Ellmore, who is divorced and has two children.

While Ellmore has spent more time canvassing neighborhoods, O'Donoghue has spent time at meet-and-greets and on the phone.

This weekend, O'Donoghue's campaign plans to send a mailing to about 10,000 homes touting him as "the best candidate against Jim Moran" and detailing his war experience and education at West Point and Yale, where he received a master's in business administration.

After the attacks of 2001, O'Donoghue, an Army reservist, took a leave of absence from his job at LexisNexis to travel to Afghanistan, where his unit helped to set up projects with civilians to build bridges and schools. He later spent a year in Iraq and received a Bronze Star.

His experiences have informed his position on the war, which he supports. "In retrospect, we would have benefited by having more troops on the ground," he said, but "as long as there is a chance there is a stable Iraq, we have to stay."

Both men have similar views that diverge from Moran's on increased border security and on support for the war, which the congressman has always opposed. They both say that improving the region's transportation system is a top concern, as is the loss of about 20,000 military and defense jobs across Northern Virginia.

Republicans who have watched the men in debates say that although O'Donoghue has the better résumé, Ellmore seems more passionate. They wonder how Ellmore's lack of higher education -- he completed a handful of college courses and likes to say he finished "399 out of 425" at Hayfield Secondary -- will play in a district that is one of the most highly educated in the country.

"I have wisdom, as opposed to a formal education. I have real-life experiences," Ellmore said. He said he started as a bank teller at age 18 and worked his way up to be the vice president in mortgage lending of Alliance Bank in Reston.

O'Donoghue, who has lived in Fairfax for 10 years and has been a member of the Fairfax County Republican Committee for a decade, has targeted Ellmore's lack of Republican credentials, noting in the mailing that "he has missed numerous GOP primaries, and didn't even bother to vote in 4 of the last 8 general elections."

Ellmore said that he underwent a spiritual rebirth when he joined McLean Bible Church in 1998, reenergizing his evangelical Christian faith. And he underwent a political "awakening" in 2000, when President Bush was elected.

On his recent canvass through Virginia Hills, Ellmore needed to find some Republicans who were home. On the piece of paper in his hand, records showed that only 50 of the houses in a neighborhood of 700 had voted in previous Republican primaries. About 9,400 people voted in the last Republican primary in the 8th District, in 1998 when the boundaries were different.

Finally, Ellmore knocked on the door of Woody Henson, an acquaintance from his former neighborhood. Henson, 76, a tile-layer, told him his top concerns are immigration -- "It's a shame the way they're letting them in our borders," Henson said -- and transportation.

Ellmore listened and asked the retiree to remember to vote Tuesday. "We're not going to have a huge turnout," he said. "I'm not [U.S. Sen.] George Allen . . . We need every vote."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company