Republican primary in Northern Virginia sounds familiar themes, with a twist

Awaiting the winner: Gerald Connolly (D).
Awaiting the winner: Gerald Connolly (D). (Gerald E. "Gerry" Connolly)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

On the surface, it's a typical 2010 Republican primary: two candidates battling over who is more committed to cutting taxes and spending, with one vowing to stand up to "Washington insiders" and the other saying he is "frightened" by what's going on in the capital.

What's atypical about the increasingly bitter contest in Virginia's 11th Congressional District is that those "insiders" are just a few miles away, and it's not clear whether the "more conservative" mantle will help the GOP nominee much in November against freshman Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D).

Oakton businessman Keith Fimian, who lost to Connolly by 12 points in 2008, is running again for the Republican nomination. He will face Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity in the June 8 primary.

The district, which includes most of Fairfax and Prince William counties, is the wealthiest in the country and is unusually dependent on federal jobs and spending. It's also one of the most competitive seats in Virginia: Barack Obama won the district by 15 points in 2008, but Republican Robert F. McDonnell took it by 10 points in the governor's race a year later.

As in other contests across the country, Republican activists in the 11th are eager for rhetoric that is anti-government and anti-Obama. Both Fimian and Herrity are giving them what they want. But with Connolly waiting in the wings to argue that either is too extreme for the Northern Virginia electorate, labels can be tricky in this race.

"I've always called myself a conservative," Herrity said, while noting in the next breath that he has "looked for common-sense solutions" working on a Board of Supervisors in which Democrats hold a 7 to 3 majority. His late father, Jack Herrity, was a longtime chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

Fimian, for his part, said in 2008 that he had always seen himself "as a moderate that leans conservative."

"I'm the same guy I was two years ago," Fimian says now, but the word "moderate" hasn't appeared much in his 2010 bid.

One Fimian campaign video, titled "Drop the Ham Sandwich and No One Gets Hurt," shows the candidate fretting that the Obama administration is poised to mandate lower salt levels in food products. Other videos slam the government's bailout of General Motors and the idea of creating a value added tax.

Fimian has pounded Herrity on the latter's record on the Fairfax board. Herrity says he has "never voted to raise taxes," but Fimian's camp points out that Herrity voted last year to increase property taxes by 12 cents per $100 in assessed value. Herrity also voted in December to create the Dulles Rail Transportation Improvement District, which increased commercial property taxes.

Herrity defends the first vote by noting that because property values went down in 2009, many homeowners paid less in taxes. He said business owners in the Dulles rail corridor wanted the commercial tax increase to help pay for the extension of Metrorail.

Still, Fimian has sought to pin Herrity down on the tax issue during their joint appearances, and he has released Web videos dubbing Herrity "Property Tax Pat" and "Patinocchio."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company