Connolly Takes Open Seat; Wolf and Moran Reelected Easily

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Democrat Gerald E. Connolly won an open congressional seat in Northern Virginia yesterday, and the region's two incumbents, Republican Frank R. Wolf and Democrat James P. Moran Jr., cruised to victory in their bids for reelection.

Connolly, 58, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, brings the number of Democrats in Virginia's 11-member congressional delegation to four. He defeated Republican newcomer Keith S. Fimian, 52, to replace retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R) in Virginia's 11th District, where voters in Fairfax and Prince William counties have increasingly chosen Democrats in statewide political contests this decade.

"The voters spoke," Connolly told supporters last night. "They said, 'Enough, be gone, you've had your day. It's time for a change.' "

But the real story might be in Hampton Roads and southside Virginia, where two other potential Democratic pickups signaled that the state's ongoing transformation from red to blue might be poised for another significant leap -- and that the shift is no longer limited to Northern Virginia. At midnight, two popular Republican incumbents, Thelma Drake of Virginia Beach and Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Franklin County, were fighting back powerful Democratic challenges. Drake was barely trailing Glenn C. Nye III, and Goode was trailing his opponent, Tom S.P. Perriello, by an even slimmer margin.

Democrats could gain enough seats in Congress to capture the majority of Virginia's delegation, which is now controlled by Republicans, 8 to 3. Whatever the outcome, the competitiveness of these races, not to mention Democrat Mark R. Warner's overwhelming victory over former governor James S. Gilmore III for the U.S. Senate and Sen. Barack Obama's victory in Virginia, show just how much the state has changed.

"This is further evidence of how competitive a state Virginia is becoming," said Robert D. Holsworth, a Virginia Commonwealth University political scientist. "Even what had been considered safe Republican seats outside of Northern Virginia are no longer safe."

Moran, 63, soundly defeated Republican Mark W. Ellmore, 50, in the 8th District, which encompasses Alexandria, Arlington County and parts of Fairfax. Wolf, of Fairfax, defied the regional trend toward Democrats in the sprawling 10th District by easily surviving a second challenge in as many years from Democrat Judy M. Feder, 61.

Wolf, whose Northern Virginia district stretches from McLean to Winchester and the Shenandoah Valley, faced an energetic, well-financed challenge from Feder, who lost resoundingly to Wolf in 2006 but had hoped that anxiety about the economy and dismay with Bush administration policies would propel her to office on her second try.

Wolf, meanwhile, had hoped that his popularity among Republicans and Democrats for his efforts to curb sprawl and increase spending on transportation would carry the day.

"I know him," said Daniel Waksmunski, 30, an accountant and Democrat who voted for Wolf and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, at Harper Park Middle School in Leesburg.

In the 11th District, which encompasses much of central and southern Fairfax and a large swath of Prince William, Davis, a popular Republican first elected 14 years ago, was able to win reelection repeatedly with moderate views on social issues and strong advocacy on such bread-and-butter issues as the federal workforce and transportation. Fimian was unable to overcome either the demographics of the district or the popularity of his opponent, who was overwhelmingly reelected to the county chairman's job just a year ago.

This was true despite a slight financial advantage attributable primarily to Fimian's early campaign decision to lend himself $325,000. As of Oct. 15, Fimian had raised nearly $1.4 million. Connolly, by the same date, had raised nearly $1.8 million but spent about $700,000 in a competitive primary race against Leslie L. Byrne.

Connolly campaigned on a promise to continue Davis's practical, business-friendly approach to such issues as rail to Dulles International Airport, which he supports. He also espoused a distinctly Democratic view on such issues as abortion rights and stem-cell research, which he supports, and the war in Iraq, which he opposes.

Connolly also sought to draw a stark contrast between his "progressive" views and those of Fimian, whom he portrayed as a closet conservative who occasionally hid his party affiliation and downplayed his membership in the conservative social organization Legatus.

"I like him because I'm a die-hard Democrat," Danielle Layne, 23, said of Connolly. She works in financial services and voted at Oakton High School in Fairfax County yesterday.

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