Democrats Harnessing Momentum for N.Va. Seat

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District race, Democrats are aiming to extend recent gains while Republicans hope a wealthy businessman who is already advertising on television can help the party hang on to a seat held for seven terms by retiring Rep. Tom Davis.

The winner will determine whether the GOP's hard-fought grip will continue in an area that has voted Democratic in some recent races. And the contest, in central and southern Fairfax County and a swath of Prince William County, will play out during a historic presidential race that has placed Virginia, and particularly its Washington suburbs, in play for the first time in 44 years.

The ballot features two well-financed and energetic candidates: Democrat Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Republican Keith S. Fimian, founder of a national home inspection business.

Fimian, whose ads are running on cable television, had more than $1 million in the bank at the end of June, much of it his own, according to federal disclosure reports. Connolly, fresh from an expensive, bruising primary with former representative Leslie L. Byrne, had less than a third of that, but he also carried enough momentum from a 24 percentage-point primary victory that few doubt his ability to quickly close the financial gap.

Indeed, despite Fimian's money, Connolly heads into the fall election season with several advantages. He was reelected to the county chairman's seat overwhelmingly last year, a feat that included enough exposure on television and in print to give him an edge over Fimian in name recognition. Connolly has led an award-winning county government that satisfies most residents, according to polls. He has emphasized school quality and such progressive initiatives as expanded public transit, storm water protection and "green" building standards. He also has earned broad support among business leaders, in part by advocating for a Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport and pushing for a dramatic redevelopment of Tysons Corner.

As a result, independent political analysts such as the Rothenberg and Cook reports have given Connolly the advantage.

"Getting things done together," Connolly said earlier this year about his style of governance. "That's the measure, I hope, of the kind of congressman I'll be."

Most importantly, perhaps, Connolly, 58, is a Democrat. The 11th District encompasses Fairfax communities including Vienna, Oakton and Annandale as well as part of Prince William. It is an affluent and diverse stretch of suburbs characterized by a large federal workforce, government contractors and, increasingly, Democrats.

Voters in the 11th District rewarded Davis again and again for his moderation on social issues and his boosterism for federal workers and contractors and such bread-and-butter issues as highway construction. But they also overwhelmingly elected Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) in 2005 and Sen. James Webb (D) in 2006.

"I'm very realistic and very practical," said Fimian, a political newcomer with virtually no name recognition. "But this race is eminently winnable."

Fimian, 52, is a genial former standout fullback at the College of William and Mary. Those with good memories will recall the school's last win over rival Virginia Tech, in 1976, when Fimian, the team captain, scored three touchdowns. He had tryouts with the Cleveland Browns until a torn ligament ended his football career.

In the meantime, Fimian struck gold, forming the Chantilly-based Home Inspect, which boasts 300 employees, 8,000 subcontractors and just under $50 million in annual revenue. "I am very fortunate," Fimian said. "I have lived the American dream."

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