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Va.'s Davis To Leave Congress at End of Term

Seven-term U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) announced plans to retire on Jan. 30, 2008.

Davis said yesterday that the GOP has a chance to hang on to his seat. But recent elections make it clear that the district is leaning Democratic, and without Davis's record and name recognition, a Republican will face a difficult time.

Davis's announcement yesterday reverberated through Congress, where he became the fifth veteran House Republican in the past week to say that he will not seek reelection this fall. Since losing their majority status after the 2006 elections, House Republicans have endured 28 retirements or resignation announcements, and many have occurred in competitive districts such as Davis's.

Davis's career in Congress ends with a swiftness that underscores how uncertain political life can be. A few months ago, he was viewed as a natural contender to replace U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who is also retiring at the end of the year.

Republicans and Democrats praised Davis and commended his moderate approach to expanding the economy and attracting transportation funding.

Former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner (D), who is running for the U.S. Senate seat that Davis chose not to seek this year, said: "Tom Davis is a friend, and he's been a solid partner, reaching across party lines as we worked on issues ranging from transportation to military base closings to making sure the state kept its fiscal commitments to deliver services."

Davis's skills in political strategizing are legendary. He has been known to recite election results from decades-old presidential contests and rattle off precinct results in his district with ease. A former Senate page, he has spent years studying Virginia and preparing for a Senate race, nurturing candidates near and far, contributing money and fostering relationships with party leaders in outlying parts of the state.

Davis is steadfast in his belief that his moderate politics, focused more on economic growth and less on divisive social issues, is the right direction for the state GOP. The steady lean toward Democratic candidates in his district, which encompasses Fairfax County communities including Vienna, Oakton and Annandale as well as a sliver of Prince William County, shows that hard-core conservatism doesn't work anymore on statewide ballots, he said.

But Davis didn't count on the vehemence with which the GOP's conservative wing would resist his efforts to move the party to the middle. His decision not to run for the Senate was spurred in part by an ugly battle in the state party, which held a convention instead of a primary to choose its nominee. The decision favored former governor James S. Gilmore III, a more conservative candidate viewed as likelier to attract the party faithful who typically attend conventions.

"I'm not at all bitter," Davis said. "I'm just disappointed. We have such an opportunity to put together a coalition that's good for Virginia. Instead of opening up the party to people who agree with them on many issues, they've decided to have an admissions test [on abortion and taxes]. And that's not a winning formula for them or for Virginia."

Davis said he didn't know whether he would have defeated any of the Democrats likely to run for his seat. But in the end, it was time for a change, he said.

"We're just very tired," he said. "We're going to kick back and have some weekends."

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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