By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has endorsed Democratic congressional candidate Gerald E. Connolly in Northern Virginia's 11th District, an increasingly blue-leaning territory where Democrats are betting heavily on gaining a seat now that Republican Rep. Tom Davis is retiring.
In a statement released yesterday, Kaine said that Connolly, who is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, is the strongest candidate among the four competing in the June 10 primary. Kaine said Connolly has been a "partner" on a range of issues, including strengthening the economy, toughening environmental standards, fully funding schools and fighting for a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport.
"As a former elected local official, I appreciate Gerry's practical approach to problem-solving," said Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond.
Support from a popular sitting governor is seen as an advantage for Connolly against former representative Leslie L. Byrne, former Navy pilot Douglas J. Denneny and physical therapist Lori P. Alexander. Such an endorsement, although not unprecedented in a primary, also speaks to Kaine's assertive style as a party leader who is willing to take sides in Democratic contests. Kaine endorsed U.S. Sen. Barack Obama for president more than a year ago.
"Gerry brings passion and integrity to public service and a deep sense of commitment to all he undertakes," Kaine said in the statement. "I believe that this race has attracted four worthy and capable candidates, but for me, Gerry Connolly is the standout. He will serve the 11th Congressional District with honor and distinction. I fully endorse and will actively work for his election, and I encourage voters in the 11th Congressional District to do the same."
Connolly and Byrne lead the primary field in name recognition, contributions and endorsements, but Connolly holds an advantage in those categories over Byrne. Byrne has received endorsements from a long list of progressive organizations, including Emily's List, the National Organization for Women and more than a dozen union groups. Byrne also has the support of seven state lawmakers. And she has the backing of U.S. Sen. James Webb, whom Byrne supported long before many other Democrats did when he first ran for office two years ago.
Connolly has the support of several unions, too. He has also been endorsed by a dozen state lawmakers, including several senators who worked alongside Byrne when she served in the Virginia Senate several years ago.
"I don't dislike Leslie," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), adding that he committed to Connolly when Byrne was still running for lieutenant governor three years ago. "I've worked with people who are a lot harder to work with. But Gerry's never lost an election, and there may be an apprehension there. Leslie had a congressional office and didn't hold it. I think some people don't want to gamble again. The loss to [Lt. Gov.] Bill Bolling probably didn't help."
Kaine has a history with Byrne, too: She was his running mate when he ran for governor in 2005. But his "pragmatic" approach to running government and building consensus is more aligned with Connolly, both said.
"I'm very honored," Connolly said. "The governor and I have been comrades in arms in a lot of battles in the General Assembly. It's a common-sense, results-oriented coalition that we've always put together."
Byrne was not available for comment yesterday, but her campaign manager, Joe Fox, said in a statement: "There's one statewide officeholder who understands what the war in Iraq is costing us in lives lost and dollars spent, and that's Sen. Jim Webb, and Leslie is proud to have his support. Leslie Byrne looks forward to a unified Democratic effort to help reclaim this seat in November."
Denneny dismissed news of Kaine's endorsement. "The only endorsement that matters is the one from voters on June 10," he said.