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U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.)
U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) (Lauren Victoria Burke - AP)

"It's a very fine line between having 80-20 popularity to having 20-80 when you're in the center," he told an interviewer in 2004. "You are only a couple of decisions away from reversing the numbers."

Davis's numbers remained good for a long time.

He brought federal meat and potatoes to his district, including money for the Springfield Mixing Bowl. Along with U.S. Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), he led the push to close the District's Lorton Correctional Complex. He raised buckets of money for House Republicans and mentored young politicians, trying to imbue them with his 24-7 passion for grass-roots politics -- exceeded only by his passion for baseball.

"He was kind of the political godfather of Northern Virginia politics for a long number of years," said Fairfax Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield).

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) was running his first race for the General Assembly in 1993 when a heavy snowstorm kept him at home.

"Davis calls me and asks what's up. I tell him I'm watching TV," Albo recalled. "He said, 'That means everybody's home! Get out there and knock on some doors!' He was right. Everybody was home."

Colleagues said Davis's mastery of electoral history is nothing short of preternatural. "He can tell you what the margin was for some race in North Dakota in 1956," Wolf said. "I don't know anyone who knows more about government and politics, and he loves it."

As head of the National Republican Campaign Committee in 2001, he cut a redistricting deal with California state Democrats that kept the number of seats for each party the same at a time when Democrats were expecting big gains. "He knew the [district] lines, the towns and counties, the whole nine yards," said former chief of staff John Hishta.

That year, Davis worked with Wolf and Moran on how to draw congressional district boundaries best suited to protecting their seats. Moran recalled the meeting in which Davis gave him a portion of the diverse Route 7 corridor for his district.

"He said, 'Jim, this is a mix of blacks, browns, immigrants, Muslims and gay activists and everything else. They're your kind of people. You're going to love them.' "

Although Davis became a national party figure, he played local kingmaker with limited success. In 2003, he mentored and helped subsidize Republican Mychele B. Brickner in her unsuccessful race against then-Providence Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D) for the Fairfax County Board chairmanship. Same for Prince William Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton's unsuccessful bid in 2005 for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

And there was the defeat last year of his wife, former state senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), who was unseated by J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen in Northern Virginia's rising Democratic tide.

With a year left in office, Davis faces the prospect of leaving behind major pieces of unfinished business. His work toward a congressional vote for the District has come to naught. And he and other members of Northern Virginia's congressional delegation have been unable to navigate the proposed Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport through the Department of Transportation, which said last week that the $5 billion link would probably not qualify for federal funding.

Supporters said they understood Davis's decision to retire but were happy to hear that he left the door open. "It's kind of hard to imagine politics in Northern Virginia without Tom," said Frey, a Fairfax supervisor.

Just as difficult, he said, as imagining Davis without Northern Virginia politics.

"If they'd let him be shortstop for the Nationals, I can see him giving up politics. Other than that . . . "

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