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Rep. Tom Davis To Retire

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Ben Pershing
washingtonpost.com Blogger, Capitol Briefing
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; 4:00 PM

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said today he will retire from Congress at the end of the year, bringing to a close a 14-year stint in the House of Representatives during which he rose rapidly through the ranks of Republican leadership and championed such issues as D.C. voting rights and a vibrant defense-contracting industry.

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Capitol Briefing Blogger Ben Pershing, was online Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 4 p.m. ET to discuss reaction.

The transcript follows.

Analysis: Pragmatic, Centrist Style Brought Davis Success and Suspicion

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Ben Pershing: Hi everyone. One of the big stories on Capitol Hill today -- and the entire D.C. area -- is the retirement announcement of Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R). You can read a couple of different stories about his retirement and a Capitol Briefing blog post I wrote on it by looking at the links above. Let's get started with your questions.

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Fairfax, Va.: Ben, obviously this will be mean a big loss in clout for the region's congressional delegation. Where/how do you think that loss will be felt the most?

Ben Pershing: This is definitely a loss for the entire D.C. area. Davis has been the biggest Republican supporter of D.C. voting rights in the House for quite a while. He also has been a driving force behind bringing federal money to Northern Virginia and supporting the area's military bases. And he has been a strong advocate for the Dulles rail project, which as you know hasn't been doing so well lately. There is no obvious way to replace his seniority, though the area still has some pretty powerful members of Congress, like Steny Hoyer and Frank Wolf.

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spidey103: I guess by current standards Davis is considered a "moderate" Republican, but he voted to impeach President Clinton and always seemed to go along with whatever Bush wanted.

Ben Pershing: That's true -- it's not as though Davis bucked his party on all the major issues -- but he has been pretty liberal on social issues like abortion, and he has been a big supporter of federal workers and their unions, which generally tend to support Democrats more than Republicans.

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Arlington, Va.: Ben, should we start getting used to hearing "Congressman Connolly," or does former Congresswoman Byrne have a real chance of beating him in the Democratic primary? Who's going to run on the GOP side, now that Davis is retiring (and will be making more use of his Nationals season tickets)?

Ben Pershing: Reading all the coverage today and talking to people here on Capitol Hill, it doesn't seem that any obvious Republican successors have emerged yet. On the Democratic side, it does seem like the party establishment is more likely to get behind Gerald Connolly, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, than ex-Rep. Leslie Byrne. But it's too early to say for sure which of them is the likely nominee.

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Arlington, Va.: What some people don't realize is that strongest advocate for D.C. voting rights is actually a Republican. He is the only person with enough clout to get that done. I guess D.C. statehood chances are back to the starting point?

Ben Pershing: With Democrats running the House and Senate now, it's not quite as necessary for there to be a strong Republican champion in the House for D.C. voting rights. The Senate, with its 60-vote hurdle, is the bigger challenge. If a Democrat wins the White House in November I think you'll see a reinvigorated push to get this done next year, especially if Democrats can pick up a few seats in the Senate.

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Arlington, Va.: Though I live in a neighboring district and am a Democrat, I always have admired Mr. Davis' efforts to bring practical solutions to the region's problems. I hope his retirement from public office is only temporary -- rest up, Mr. Davis, then come on back!

Ben Pershing: Voters like you are the reason Davis would have been a favorite to win re-election, but a different GOP nominee may have a harder time. Davis always has been able to attract at least some Democrats and independents to vote for him. Will his successor?

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Fairfax, Va.: For a Republican he wasn't half-bad. I'm almost sorry to see him go. But not really. Have to give him credit for having a lot of energy, the guy showed up for every event.

How much can a former congressman like Davis expect to make from the lobbyist who will surely hire him?

I'm surprised he jumped ship. He still would have won.

Ben Pershing: Davis apparently already has begun talking to some possible employers on K Street. He can expect to command a seven-figure salary. He's got lots of contacts in both parties, and he knows policy well, particularly on high-tech issues. He should have a nice menu of job options waiting for him.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is Davis's retirement yet another nail in the coffin of previously Republican-leaning Northern Virginia?

Ben Pershing: Northern Virginia definitely has been trending toward Democrats in recent years, from Arlington out to Loudoun County. That trend has been particularly noticeable at the state and local level. Remember, Davis's wife -- Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R) -- just lost her Virginia Senate seat last year to Chap Petersen, a Democrat.

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Fairfax, Va.: Ben, with Tom Davis's announcement today and Sen. John Warner's decision also to not seek re-election, Virginia is losing two of our most important leaders. Does this also mean that the moderate, common-sense wing of Virginia's Republican party is gone?

Ben Pershing: Well, Davis certainly is frustrated by the direction the state party is taking. When the state GOP decided to pick their nominee for the race to succeed Sen. John Warner by using a nominating convention, rather than a primary, that was a clear signal that the party establishment wanted a more conservative nominee (Jim Gilmore) instead of Davis. But Davis and other moderates think a strongly conservative candidate will have a lot of trouble beating a Democrat as popular as Mark Warner in the general election. This same moderate vs. conservative tension has played out in the state for a while, and will continue.

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hyogo66: A "vibrant defense-contracting industry"? Can you spell gravy train? I'm glad he's going. Good riddance.

Ben Pershing: That is probably the view of a fair number of conservatives. Davis was never shy about bringing home the bacon to his district and the entire D.C. area. For Republicans whose number one issue is cutting pork and federal spending, he probably wasn't their favorite guy.

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Falls Church, Va.: Tom was obviously very disappointed about the Senate race. It strikes me that he might be well advised to run for governor. It could position him to challenge Sens. Webb or Mark Warner, or even to run for president. Have you heard any speculation about this?

Ben Pershing: Obviously he passed on challenging Mark Warner for the open U.S. Senate seat this year. As for his future, here's what he said today: "It's time for me to take a sabbatical. I would say I'm not ruling out future public service, but it's time to be refreshed, to see what it's like in the private sector. That doesn't mean I will or won't come back."

Now, there are two main issues here: If the party wouldn't help him become the Senate nominee this year, would it be any easier for him to run for governor or challenge Sen. Jim Webb in the future? If he does become a high-paid lobbyist, will that hurt his future campaign chances? It might be pretty easy for his opponents, either Democratic or Republican, to use his lobbying career against him.

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Seattle: Some people say that Davis was a moderate Republican because of his stances on abortion and D.C. voting rights, but it's not clear to me that his voting record reflects this. What do you think? Also, what's your favorite rock album cover? Thanks.

Ben Pershing: He does have a mixed voting record, but he has generally been more liberal than most House Republicans. As for album covers, it's tough to pick a favorite, but I always thought Ted Nugent's "Weekend Warriors" cover was pretty great, in a ridiculous, God-of-Rock kind of way.

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Washington: On the Democratic side, there's increasing buzz about Doug Denneny to take Davis's seat. He's a medal-recipient Iraq War vet, former Navy Legislative Fellow and deputy legislative liaison for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's now president of the Mantua Citizens Association, and was appointed to and has served on three Fairfax County Boards: the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force, the Environmental Quality Advisory Council and the Industrial Development Authority.

I'm really impressed by this guy, and a little surprised that you didn't mention him. I mean, while Leslie Byrne was writing letters about the Iraq War, he was fighting in it. The man is a genuine war hero, and has years of sophisticated experience on Capitol Hill. In a purplish district like the 11th, he seems like the natural candidate to pull in independents and moderate Republicans while still taking sensible, progressive positions on the issues.

Ben Pershing: Are you, by chance, Doug Denneny himself? If it's you, here's a plug for your Web site. But it does seem at this point like Connolly or Byrne will have the upper hand.

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Anonymous: Do Dave Albo or the recently defeated Jay O'Brien take a shot at holding the seat for the GOP?

Ben Pershing: I have seen both those names mentioned on some local blogs, but neither of them has taken any concrete steps to run. Republican candidates generally were waiting until Davis announced his decision before making any real moves. The field should get a lot clearer in the next week.

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Natstural: Davis is (and was) a great politician for the D.C. area, not just Northern Virginia. He has helped promote growth across the whole religion, and he may be the District's strongest voice in Congress (of those with a vote). It will be almost impossible for a freshman congressman to provide the level of service to the region. He will be missed by all.

Ben Pershing: It's definitely true that a freshman member, from either party, will start off in a lot weaker position in the House compared to Davis's current position. One of the best ways to measure a particular member's clout -- or the clout of an entire state delegation -- is by simply looking at seniority. Between the retirements of Davis and John Warner, Virginia clearly is losing some clout.

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Washington: Nope, I'm not Denneny -- just an admirer, and (full disclosure) a donor. I admire his proven courage, service to country, and forward-looking thinking, especially as opposed to, say, the tired Byrne -- a proven loser in this district.

Ben Pershing: Okay, because I was also wondering if you're related to Denneny. As for Byrne, she definitely has piled up some losses in the past. She only served one term in the House before losing, and also has tried and failed before in runs for the Senate and for lieutenant governor. But it seems like she hasn't given up trying to get back to Congress.

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Kingstowne, Va.: Ben, speaking of The Nuge: He is a known conservative Republican and strong advocate of gun rights. If he were to relocate to Northern Virginia, which locality or county in the Washington area would look to be safely Republican leaning for the near future?

Ben Pershing: Ted Nugent definitely would be an interesting dark-horse candidate for this seat. In addition to supporting gun rights and the rights of bow-hunters, I hear he also has some fascinating views on the Dulles rail project and the future of development in Tyson's Corner.

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Washington: Does Davis take a shot at Webb in 2012? Or does he wait for the governor's race in 2013?

Ben Pershing: As I noted earlier, Davis will have some difficult challenges in any future statewide race. If he does run again, it probably will depend on how strong or weak Webb looks at the time.

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adjjones: Tom forgot his roots and the people of Fairfax. Probably correct in that it's time to move on. Doubtful that he could be reele

Ben Pershing: It's true that Davis's re-election races have gotten progressively tougher, but he still would have been the favorite if he'd decided to run again. He is a very, very good fundraiser and would likely have been able to outspend just about any Democratic opponent.

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Center Channel: Bad news for Republicans. The Christian Soldiers have had their way for too long in the GOP. This country needs moderates from both parties in charge. Instead, DeLay and company forced the Republicans into a tight straightjacket that didn't allow them to breathe. Holy wars aren't good for anybody except those who profit from them, no matter what part of the world you live in.

Ben Pershing: All these retirements by moderate Republicans will be a real test for the House GOP. They really can't win back the majority without the ability to keep their centrists and swing-district members from retiring. And are there promising moderate Republican candidates out there who see all these retirements and decide not to bother running for Congress?

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Northwest Washington: As a political layman, this period seems very reminiscent of when Nunn, Mitchell and other rational/diplomatic members left Congress (House/Senate) prior to the Republican conservative revolution or Gingrich's so-called mandate. With the recent announcements are we embarking on a similar type era?

Ben Pershing: I definitely have heard both Democrats and Republicans lament that there is a lot less bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and a lot fewer pragmatic deal-makers than there used to be. I guess it depends on how highly you value pragmatism versus members who have strong ideological views and fight for them.

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Fairfax, Va.: To all those complaining about him becoming a lobbyist -- pretty much everyone in any presidential staff does this (on both sides). Let's see you walk away from $1 million-plus a year. It's easy to complain without having that offer in front of you. I doubt anyone here could turn down a seven-figure job.

Ben Pershing: I, for one probably would not turn down a seven-figure job, but public officials have to make choices: Davis can take the money now, but it may hurt him if he wants to return to elected office. He has to decide which is more important to him.

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Arlington, Va.: Shouldn't Rep. Moran be the Northern Virginia congressman with the most clout, given that he's been in office longer than Davis and is a Democrat? Oh wait, that's right... he squandered most of his clout with all his indiscretions over the years and got stripped of his Whip Team post, as well as losing out for an Appropriations cardinalship for the subcommittee that he was the the most senior Democrat on.

Ben Pershing: For all the problems he's had, Jim Moran still has some clout as a member of the Appropriations Committee. That's where the real money is, more so that on Davis' panel -- Oversight and Government Reform.

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Ben Pershing: Okay everyone, thanks for the great questions. This race to replace Davis should be interesting to watch.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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