Can Va.'s Davis Team Divorce Themselves From Politics?

State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis and Rep. Tom Davis on Election Day, before the ballots in her race were counted.
State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis and Rep. Tom Davis on Election Day, before the ballots in her race were counted. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2007

Theirs is a partnership of politics and ambition that formed a decade ago and grew into something more.

He was a powerful congressman. She was a fledgling state candidate with promise. A master politician with a national profile, he took her under his wing and found his life's love.

They both craved the game, and they both sought power. When he moved on to the Senate, she could run for his seat, or perhaps a statewide office in Virginia. Together, they made a life centered around these ambitions.

And then Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, the seven-term Republican from Fairfax County, decided last month that his dream job, the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, had slipped out of reach. And on Tuesday, the Democratic tide that rose in Northern Virginia swept out of office his wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a 10-year incumbent.

The rising arc of the Davis brand fell back to earth. Elections are cruel that way.

Now, the man who first came to the Hill as a Senate page and became a leading advocate in Congress for the affairs of the District, suddenly has to contemplate a future away from it all. He probably won't run for reelection unless he concludes it is a path to the Senate in 2012, say his associates.

"He saw a lifelong goal disappear," said Republican Gary H. Baise of McLean, a friend of the Davises. "He saw very methodically how he could get there; he would be the natural heir to John Warner. But all of a sudden, events spun out of control. He could no longer control them. So he devoted everything to helping his wife. And so there was just an enormous amount of prestige, power, perception, and his future tied up in his wife's race."

The story of how the Davises' success became interdependent is not hard to trace through those who have watched the political romance blossom over the years. Both declined to be interviewed for this article.

Davis entered politics in 1980, first as a Fairfax County district supervisor. He went to Congress as part of the Republican revolution of 1994 and rapidly rose through the ranks.

Devolites Davis is a native of Arlington who majored in math at the University of Virginia. A self-described Oakton soccer mom to four daughters, she caught the bug for politics in the mid-1990s. She brought a remarkable energy to her new career that she had previously applied to a statistical consulting business and to Girls Scouts and the PTA.

She ran twice, unsuccessfully, for a seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors against Democrat Gerald E. Connolly. But when Davis met her through political circles, the congressman saw a chance to advance a Republican woman in Virginia politics. He urged her to run for a seat in Richmond and he offered to serve as her campaign manager.

"Jeannemarie was part of the Tom Davis team," recalled David B. Albo, a Republican delegate from Springfield and a personal friend of the Davises. "There were a number of us for whom Tom Davis is our mentor. . . . He got us into politics. He introduced us to people who knew how to run campaigns. He taught us how to door-knock."

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