In an insider's bastion, outsider's rhetoric might fall flat

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 7:54 PM


Suburbanites who strongly support the tea party movement, slightly less than the number who strongly oppose it

Two weeks before Election Day, Republican Keith Fimian brought his anti-elite, anti-politician message to a room full of, well, elites and politicians.

"I've had the great privilege of living the American dream," said Fimian at a debate before the Fairfax Committee of 100, an older, prosperous-looking audience of people who appeared to have enjoyed the same privilege. "And now that dream . . . is passing away before our eyes."

At the entrance, a Fimian campaign flier deriding his opponent, Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, as a "career politician" was placed near a membership directory for the committee. Inside the directory was a who's who of Fairfax, with a number of career politicians listed alongside lawyers, lobbyists and chief executives.

Fimian's opening remarks included several more disparaging references to career politicians. The event's host then took a moment to note that one of those politicians, Vienna Town Council member Howard Springsteen, was in attendance. He waved as the audience applauded.

Connolly made no effort to shy from his record. Rather, he attacked Fimian - founder and chairman of the home inspection company U.S. Inspect - for the seeming sin of being just a businessman.

"I felt it was always important to get involved in your community," Connolly said, turning to his foe. "So what are your civic credentials? I've got a 30-year record, and my opponent has none."

Fimian's message is one that resonates nationally: The area might be wealthy, but behind the "curtain," as Fimian likes to say, lurks a crushing federal debt that threatens us all.

Yet while a campaign heavy on tea party-inspired rhetoric and calls for severe budget cuts might be a tough sell in any well-off suburb, it is particularly so in one that's home to thousands of government workers and contractors.

The government has been good to the 11th District, Connolly said, citing stimulus money for several projects. And, he added, the bill had brought "hundreds of millions of dollars" for federal contracting jobs to the region.

At the debate's end, at least one audience member said he was on Fimian's side.

"Gerald Connolly misled this group," said Arthur Purves, head of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. Purves said Connolly failed to recognize the true cost of Obama's health-care plan and federal entitlement programs.

Springsteen, meanwhile, was unimpressed with Fimian's posture as an outsider and political novice. "I think you've got to pay your dues in the local community," he said.

Frank Blechman, the committee's vice president and a Connolly supporter, said, "Gerry did a much better job of talking to this group," but he allowed that Fimian was "much smoother now" than he was in 2008, when Connolly beat him in their first head-to-head race.

"He only did the 'get our country back' line once or twice," Blechman said. "I'm sure with a tea party audience he'd say it more."

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