In Virginia, a Key Primary

Saturday, June 7, 2008

WITH THE DECISION by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) not to seek reelection from Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District, Democrats are eyeing the vacancy as one of their more promising prospects for picking up a seat this fall. The 11th District, comprising a chunk of Fairfax County and part of Prince William County, has been increasingly friendly territory for Democrats during this decade. Mr. Davis, with the advantage of long years in local government before moving to Congress, is one of a vanishing breed of moderate Republicans who have been able to keep winning there.

His departure set the stage for a spirited, at times venomous, primary campaign among four Democratic candidates, two of whom are experienced public figures: Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Leslie L. Byrne, whose political résumé includes stints in Virginia's House of Delegates and Senate, a post in the Clinton administration and, from 1993 to 1995, a term in the U.S. House representing the 11th District (she was defeated by Mr. Davis).

On the primary ballot on Tuesday, the clear choice is Mr. Connolly, who, as the senior elected official in Virginia's most populous jurisdiction, has been a nimble, energetic advocate for Fairfax County. A member of the county board for 13 years and a formidable

civic activist before that, he has been a force in shaping policy in Northern Virginia and regionally.

Mr. Connolly is not universally beloved; he can be thin-skinned and hardheaded. But there is no denying his dedication and effectiveness on a range of issues affecting the region, including climate change, transportation and affordable housing. Ms. Byrne has backing from unions and other progressive groups. But her sharp-elbow tactics have injected a toxic note into most of the campaigns she has run, raising doubt about her ability to work cooperatively on regional issues in Congress. The Washington area's congressional delegation has a tradition of bipartisanship; Mr. Connolly is a better bet to fit that mold.

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