By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Democrats seeking to take over a Republican-held congressional seat in Northern Virginia are hammering GOP candidate Keith S. Fimian for his ties to a conservative Catholic organization, but Fimian and some Catholic leaders say the attacks are nothing more than religious bigotry.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has sent at least seven mailings into Virginia's 11th Congressional District in the past three weeks, all with a virtually identical message: If voters get to know the real Keith Fimian, they will discover that he is a reactionary activist seeking to roll back the rights of women.
The strategy underscores how much Northern Virginia has shifted politically in recent years. Although Republican Tom Davis has represented the 11th District in the U.S. House for seven terms, he has done so with moderate social views and skilled advocacy of the region's ample federal workforce and government contracting industry.
Now that Davis is retiring, most independent political observers are giving Democrats the advantage in the 11th District this fall.
"It's a disturbing fact," reads one of the mailings. "Congressional candidate Keith Fimian is a member of a little known organization that promotes other groups fighting for a radical-anti-woman agenda. One of the groups they promote, e5 Men, is so far out of the mainstream that they advocate for women to be more 'submissive' to their husbands."
Fimian, 52, said the ads seek to distort his views and distract voters from issues such as the economy and the performance of his opponent, Democrat Gerald E. Connolly, as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Fimian said he is not ashamed of his Catholic faith or his membership in Legatus, an organization of Catholic business leaders begun by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who opposes the availability of contraception.
Fimian said he is not a reactionary. Although he is opposed to fetal stem cell research and to abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk, he is also opposed to the death penalty, he said. He is not, as some of the mailings have suggested, opposed to contraceptive use.
"They're engaged in the politics of personal assassination," Fimian said. "Legatus is entirely a social organization. It . . . takes no position politically. The members are concerned with serving the poor and with social justice and family issues. To somehow imply that I'm in favor of these things because there are links from the Web site to other organizations that Legatus says it doesn't endorse is essentially lying about my position."
The Catholic League has chimed in, as has state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), who is also Catholic. Both say Democrats are smearing Fimian.
"The DCCC is also guilty of lying," Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a written statement. "To wit: It says Legatus 'promotes groups supporting a radical agenda.' In fact, Legatus doesn't promote any group. Like many other organizations, it has a 'links' section on its Web site that lists other groups. What the DCCC doesn't say is that Legatus explicitly states that it does 'not necessarily endorse all of the content or the views contained in the sites.' The DCCC knows this, but chose to lie anyway."
A spokeswoman for the DCCC said the mailings are fair in an election in which Fimian has portrayed himself as being much like Connolly, who is known as a pro-business moderate with progressive social views.
The 11th District, which includes much of central and southern Fairfax County and a swath of Prince William County, is diverse and highly educated. Increasingly, it is choosing Democrats in statewide elections. Toward that end, the DCCC and Connolly (although his campaign had nothing to do with the mailings, and he said he has not seen them) say voters should know what Fimian is really about.
"Mr. Fimian's views on social issues are relevant because he has pretended in this campaign to be a moderate in the mold of Tom Davis," Connolly said. "Tom Davis is pro-choice. Tom Davis is pro-stem cell research. And Tom Davis certainly supports the availability of contraception in the United States. My opponent belongs to an organization that opposes these things. I assume when you belong to an organization, you subscribe to the tenets of this organization. If he wants to disavow the tenets of this organization, now's the time to do it."
Connolly, 58, who like Fimian is Catholic, added that the issue is not religious but political. And he noted that Fimian has received more than $100,000 in contributions from members of Legatus, so the Republican's assertion that the organization is apolitical is misleading.
Fimian said it is unfair to attribute to him the views of organizations with Web links to Legatus, particularly because the links from the Legatus site include a disclaimer.
Other critics of the Democratic literature questioned the assertion that e5 Men, an organization that encourages men to fast as a way to develop their faith, advocates submission of women. The group's founder, Steve Habihson, has been quoted in an interview explaining that husbands and wives should be submissive to each other. (The name e5 Men is a reference to Ephesians 5 in the Bible.)
Fimian, a successful business owner, has lent more than $300,000 to his campaign and spent $250,000 on network television advertising during the GOP convention last week. He is also spending about $30,000 on cable TV ads. He said the attacks make him want him to spend even more money to get the word out about who he is.
Connolly, who expects to match Fimian's expenditures, will begin cable advertising this week or next, he said.