Connolly to Run for Congress, 'High Expectations' in Tow

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, will make his bid for Congress official today, kicking off what is sure to be a fierce fight for the Democratic nomination in Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District.

Connolly (D) joins former congresswoman and state senator Leslie L. Byrne, community activist Douglas J. Denneny and physical therapist Lori P. Alexander in the race for the Democratic nomination. Businessman Keith S. Fimian and county school board member Stephen M. Hunt are seeking the Republican nomination.

The contest became wide open after U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) announced last week that he will retire in January after 14 years representing Northern Virginia.

His popularity and influence have enabled him to hold on in a district that has recently leaned increasingly toward Democratic candidates. He is promoting Fimian, a wealthy business owner who could put his own money into the race, but the congressman's retirement is being viewed as an opportunity for Democrats to seize the district.

Connolly will file paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission today, about a month after establishing an exploratory committee to determine whether a campaign would be practical.

"The public outpouring -- there's almost nowhere I go where I'm not encouraged by the public to undertake this task," he said.

The same issues that Davis has focused on during his years in Congress -- defending federal workers, pushing for highway improvements and nurturing the high-tech industries that have fueled Northern Virginia's economy -- will probably dominate the campaign this year.

But there will be room for ideology. Byrne, a liberal-leaning Democrat with close ties to unions, women's groups and party loyalists and strong views against the Bush administration's policies on Iraq and health care, will probably use those views as a centerpiece of her campaign.

"In the next Congress, we're not only going to have to undo what the Bush administration has done," Byrne said, "but we're going to have to have vision about what should be done in health care, in getting us out of this war, in building this economy back up. And in my view, my experience counts."

Connolly has closer ties to the business community, a fact demonstrated by his financial advantage. Since forming his exploratory committee, he said he has raised almost $200,000; Byrne reported raising $115,000 in the final quarter of last year. (Connolly is not required to report his fundraising activity until the next reporting period ends).

Connolly said he is running to provide the federal government with the same expectations for competence and good service that he said he thinks Fairfax County has become known for nationally. That competence does not exist in Washington, he said, where the Bush administration's "dysfunction" has pervaded all aspects of federal government -- including the response to Hurricane Katrina, environmental stewardship and the imposition of No Child Left Behind regulations on public schools.

"When you have a culture of low expectations of government, government never disappoints," Connolly said. "If you saw what happened in New Orleans, that culture of low expectations can be deadly. In Fairfax, we've build a culture of high expectations."

Connolly said he will tout three qualities in the coming campaign: his government experience, having served on the Board of Supervisors since 1995 and as its chairman since 2004; his foreign policy experience as a former staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and his electability in a county where he has won five elections and lost none. Last fall, he defeated Republican Gary H. Baise for a second term as board chairman.

That last point, electability, is meant to juxtapose Connolly's r¿sum¿ against that of Byrne, who, although widely viewed as a formidable campaigner, has had political defeats.

Byrne narrowly lost a statewide campaign for lieutenant governor in 2005, although she carried the 11th District with 55 percent of the vote. And in 1994, she lost her seat in Congress after one term -- to Davis, in the 11th District.

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