Connolly To Study Run for U.S. House

Gerald E. Connolly could face a tough race in the primary.
Gerald E. Connolly could face a tough race in the primary. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
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By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said he will announce today that he has formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for the U.S. House in Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District.

Connolly, 57, a proven fundraiser who overwhelmingly won a second four-year term as chairman in November, has been the subject of speculation about whether he would seek the Democratic nomination for the seat.

He said his record in Fairfax on issues including environmental conservation, the preservation of affordable housing and gang prevention demonstrates his ability to get things done. He said he would lend the campaign a proven ability to win and provide Congress with experience in foreign policy. He spent 10 years on the senior staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before being elected to the county board.

"I won't pretend that it's an easy decision," Connolly said. "But the United States is at war. I cannot address the issues of war and peace in my current job. We have a lot of work to do to repair the damage done during the Bush years."

Although Connolly's announcement was expected, it comes amid uncertainty about whether the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), will seek reelection. The 11th District encompasses much of central and southern Fairfax, including the communities of Annandale, Burke, Vienna, Fairfax City and Oakton, and a sliver of Prince William County.

In part because of the difficulty of unseating a well-known, well-financed incumbent, Connolly had been expected to base his decision largely on Davis's plans. But Connolly said this week that he couldn't wait for Davis's decision to begin exploring how much support, financial and otherwise, he'll find in the 11th District.

"Prominent business leaders have supported both Tom and me, and I would expect they would continue to support Tom," Connolly said. "I have to make my own decision. I have to proceed according to my own timeline and my own analysis."

A Davis spokesman said yesterday that the congressman, who recently decided not to run for the U.S. Senate, has not revealed a decision. Davis has said publicly that he will decide by the end of this month.

Even if Davis retires, Connolly will probably face a bruising primary if he moves beyond the exploratory phase. Leslie L. Byrne and Doug Denneny have declared plans to seek the Democratic nomination. Byrne, 61, is a one-term congresswoman whom Davis unseated in 1994; she is also a former state senator and unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2005. Denneny is a former naval commander.

Byrne has deep roots in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. She has spent the fall gathering support from unions, women's organizations and party activists who oppose the Iraq war and the Bush administration.

"Is traffic better after eight years?" Byrne asked in an interview last month. "No. Has No Child Left Behind helped us? No. Are we in a war in Iraq that we don't seem to be able to get out of? Yes. We have a Food and Drug Administration that is incapable of protecting us. I just think there are a lot of things that haven't been done."

Connolly, with his close ties to the Fairfax business community, would probably carry the financial advantage in a primary battle against Byrne. But he is also gathering support from party activists and unions, he said.

He and Byrne would probably debate about who is better prepared to push for solutions in Iraq and who would better represent the progressive positions sought by voters of the increasingly Democratic-leaning 11th District.

Connolly served as Providence District supervisor from 1995 to 2003 and was first elected chairman in 2003.

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