Connolly wins Virginia's 11th District seat

By Ann E. Marimow and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 7:37 PM

Republican businessman Keith Fimian's concession Tuesday in Virginia's 11th District House race secured a second term for Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D), making him the only one of four targeted Democrats in the state to survive last week's election.

Trailing by fewer than 1,000 votes in a district that includes portions of Fairfax and Prince William counties, Fimian said in a statement that he chose not to pursue a recount because his campaign had "not seen any obvious errors in the results."

"For me, today is the end of this campaign," Fimian said.

But he left open the possibility of revisiting his decision after Nov. 22, following another canvass by state election officials "if the results change significantly."

Connolly on Tuesday cast his lead of 981 votes - or 0.4 percent - as a show of strength in a tough year for Democratic incumbents nationally. In Virginia, Democratic congressmen Rick Boucher, Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello all lost to Republican challengers.

"While trees were falling all over the woods, this one didn't," Connolly said, referring to himself, during a news conference in his district office in Annandale. "That means something. It says that even under the worst political climate in 64 years for Democrats, he survived."

Connolly's comments came during his first public appearance since he was released from a hospital Monday. Connolly said that his doctor had discovered a blockage in an artery during what he described as a series of routine tests, and that he had been treated for a blood clot.

"My heart is in full function. There are no lasting problems. It is a situation obviously I have to continue to monitor and take care of myself," Connolly said before cutting off questions about his health, which he said he considers "private business unless I'm incapacitated."

Connolly was back at his desk, signing letters and sounding feisty as he answered reporters' questions about the election. The contest with Fimian, the founder of a home-inspection company, was a rematch from 2008. In that election to succeed former Republican lawmaker Thomas M. Davis III, Connolly won by 12 percentage points and President Obama took the state.

This year, Fimian ran as an anti-establishment, tea party-inspired candidate. He focused on concerns about the federal debt and rarely mentioned local issues. In his concession statement, Fimian said the election results show that voters "share my concerns and want their elected representatives to address those concerns."

But Connolly took a defiant tone when asked by reporters whether he would retool his approach to legislating in response to the election. On his vote in favor of Obama's health care overhaul, for instance, Connolly said, "What do you think I'm going to do, change my mind?"

Connolly, a former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, narrowly led Fimian in Fairfax but lost in Prince William. He attributed the margin in part to low turnout, which was 49 percent of active voters compared to 78 percent during the presidential election two years ago.

Connolly also acknowledged that he likely was helped by his opponent's comments during a TV interview in which Fimian said that the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre might have been averted if more students had been "packing heat." Fimian later backtracked, saying that it was "a horrible choice of words."

"I think it struck a chord with our electorate here which is a moderate, more centrist electorate and frankly gave great offense to many of the victims," Connolly said.

Mark J. Rozell, a George Mason University political scientist, said the economy and unfavorable climate for Democrats contributed to the close contest. But he said Connolly also got a boost from a "flawed candidate."

"I don't think he should be taking any great comfort from a mere 900-vote victory," Rozell said. "Had there merely been some generic moderate Republican running against him this year, that person likely would have won."

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