11th Congressional District

It Just Seems Like Bush Is in the Race

Although he has won by large margins, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) says he is not taking this year's election for granted. To highlight his independence, he noted his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.
Although he has won by large margins, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) says he is not taking this year's election for granted. To highlight his independence, he noted his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. (Photos By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III has $1.5 million in the bank, control of a powerful committee on Capitol Hill and a record of delivering for a district of loyal constituents who have returned the Republican to office five times.

And yet the Northern Virginia congressman looks as though he is running for his political life.

Davis, 57, whose district includes parts of central Fairfax and Prince William counties, is far from an at-risk incumbent key to the Democrats' strategy of winning back the House. National Democrats aren't swarming in to help his challenger, Andrew Hurst, a novice who has raised a fraction of the money Davis has. But in this fall's midterm elections, one of the region's most recognizable politicians says he is taking nothing for granted.

Hurst "will start at the 30-yard line this year just because he's a Democrat," Davis said of his opponent, a 36-year-old lawyer from Springfield. "It's a year when, if the bottom drops out, you need to be ready."

That, of course, is exactly what Hurst, whose political experience is as a Democratic activist, is hoping for: an upset in a climate favorable to Democrats because of an unpopular war in Iraq, Republican scandals and President Bush's low approval ratings. So everywhere he goes in his David-vs.-Goliath campaign to represent the 11th District, by necessity reaching voters through the Internet and knocking on doors, Hurst relentlessly casts Davis as a rubber stamp for the president.

"Think of everything the administration has done," Hurst said. "Ninety percent of it, Tom Davis has supported. It's a perfect storm for a guy like me."

Hurst's starting point has less to do with Davis than what he represents. The Democrat rallies crowds decrying the "culture of corruption in Washington" and accuses Davis, a former chief fundraiser for House Republicans, of filling his coffers with lobbyist money.

Hurst, a partner in the law firm Reed Smith LLP, rails against the energy bill Congress passed last year, with Davis's vote, and its tax credits for big business. He dismisses the new Medicare prescription drug plan as a giveaway to big insurance companies. And, like most Democrats hoping to unseat Republicans on Nov. 7, he opposes the war in Iraq and says it is time to withdraw U.S. troops, although he acknowledges that he doesn't have all the answers.

"We have to get military commanders in a room, have them agree that we are committed to withdrawing and have them tell us how to do it," he said.

Hurst is an energetic campaigner who calls Democrat John Edwards, the former vice presidential nominee and N.C. senator, his inspiration in politics. He says he is proud to have served on the team opposing Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater prosecutor, although his role was limited.

Davis, who lives in Vienna with his wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), is quick to distance himself from the Bush administration on some issues. "I've been critical of the administration in many aspects of their conduct of the war," he said at a debate in Fairfax last month, calling the government's rebuilding effort through contracting a "disgrace." He voted to go to war and says a quick withdrawal now would be irresponsible.

Davis acknowledges that the prescription drug plan is "not a perfect plan" but says Democrats didn't offer a plan. Responding to Hurst's allegations that the GOP is focusing too much on illegal immigration, Davis says his opponent is "out of sync" with a majority of 11th District voters, who, he says, favor a wall at the border with Mexico. Hurst dismisses that solution as a distraction from the business-friendly GOP's hesitance to crack down on illegal workers.


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