As in 2006, November Election Might Hinge on One Loaded Letter

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 12, 2007

RICHMOND - Will Democratic-leaning voters in Virginia turn out en masse this fall to vote against any candidates with an "R" beside their names just because they are Republicans?

Fairfax County's 34th Senate District probably holds the answer.

If Virginia Democrats stand any chance of picking up the four seats they need to take control of the state Senate this fall, Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax) almost certainly would have to lose her race against former Del. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax).

Voters in her district, which includes Fairfax City, Vienna and Oakton, chose U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) over President Bush in 2004 and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore in the 2005 governor's race. Last year, the same voters overwhelmingly supported U.S. Sen. James Webb (D) and voted against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

With most legislative districts drawn to maximize Republican or Democratic turnout, only a half-dozen of the 40 Senate districts are expected to be competitive this year. Devolites Davis is probably the most endangered incumbent senator because her district has been steadily trending Democratic.

But Devolites Davis, who describes herself as an "independent voice," is preparing to hang on to her seat this year by arguing she, not Petersen, would better represent the views of her suburban Washington constituents.

Devolites Davis zeroed in on Petersen's votes as a delegate against several gun control measures, including bills to ban guns in libraries and on school property. She contended that Petersen cast those votes to appeal to voters outside Fairfax. Petersen was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2005.

"These are egregious votes for this district," Devolites Davis said. "In my opinion, he did not represent Fairfax when he was in the House of Delegates. He was representing rural conservative Democrats."

Devolites Davis, on the other hand, has spent much of the past two years trying to moderate her voting record. For example, she sponsored legislation this year to close the "gun show loophole" that allows people to purchase weapons at the events without getting a background check. She also was a leading advocate for adding sexual orientation to the state's nondiscrimination law.

Both measures failed, but Devolites Davis says they prove she is not your typical conservative Virginia Republican. "Quite honestly, when you look at my voting record and Chap's record, it is pretty clear my voting record more closely matches my constituency than Chap's voting record," Devolites Davis said.

But Devolites Davis's biggest obstacle may be the word "Republican" that will appear after her name on the ballot Nov. 6, a fact that Petersen is promising to exploit.

If voters chose Devolites Davis, Petersen says, they will be voting for continued Republican control of the state legislature. If they vote for him, Democrats could take charge for the first time in nearly a decade, giving them the power to name committee leaders and control the flow of legislation.

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