In Fairfax Senate Race, Candidates Are Playing Against Stereotype

By Marc Fisher
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Let's play Know Your Political Parties. Identify the party of this real-life candidate for state Senate in Fairfax County:

This candidate stresses her support for tough gun controls. She's endorsed by the state's gay-rights lobby. Unlike her opponent, she favors a moratorium on executions. She's the choice of the teachers association. She wants to put more restrictions on development, while her opponent favors more density around Metro stations. On illegal immigration, she says politicians hot for a crackdown are "demagoguing this to death and creating an atmosphere of hate."

Too easy, right? What an obvious Democrat, what a predictable lib.

Sorry. That's Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, the Fairfax Republican. Yes, Republican.

In a district that, even more than the rest of Fairfax, is trending Democratic, Devolites Davis is positioning herself to the left of her challenger, former delegate Chap Petersen. So commuters who see big roadside signs touting one candidate as "Teacher-Endorsed" and the other as "Police-Endorsed" may be excused for drawing the wrong conclusions about the contenders' parties.

When Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax Coalition of Police, says his union was happy to endorse the candidate who's "very much in line with what my membership considers reasonable gun legislation -- I mean, there are plenty of gun laws out there already," he's talking about the Democrat in the race.

Facing the toughest challenge of her political career, in a district that voted for Democrats John Kerry for president in 2004 and Jim Webb for U.S. Senate in 2006, Devolites Davis is telling voters she's a RINO, a Republican in Name Only. (She even tells audiences that Dick Saslaw, Fairfax's senior Democrat in the Senate, invited her to switch parties. Saslaw says it happened, but he was just joshing. "She's no Cuccinelli" -- that's Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, the hard-line conservative -- "but she's no moderate, either," Saslaw says.)

All posturing aside, Devolites Davis is no lefty. She gets consistent 100 percent ratings from the antiabortion Virginia Society for Human Life and a zero from the other side, the political arm of Planned Parenthood. And although Devolites Davis speaks strongly about eliminating discrimination against gay people, she sponsored Virginia's marriage amendment, which forbids same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But both candidates agree that the social issues that so often dominate Virginia politics play a minimal role in their district, where Devolites Davis and Petersen spend night after night knocking on doors, being asked primarily about traffic, transit and immigration.

And party.

"Are you a Democrat?" a young woman asks Petersen when he calls at her townhouse in the Circle Woods development near the Vienna Metro station.

When she gets the affirmative, the woman cuts off the candidate's pitch: "That's all I need to know. I'll be there for you."

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