The anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform ranks Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis "a friend of the taxpayer," and a previous congressional opponent who now leads the charge against taxes in Virginia proclaims the Gloucester County Republican "a real conservative."
Davis's popularity among Virginia's conservatives in the 1st District, which stretches from Washington's southernmost suburbs to Newport News, even won her the chairmanship of the House subcommittee that deals with federal workers' benefits -- a coup for someone elected only in 2000.
But that isn't close to enough for independent William A. Lee, 33, a technical support staff member from Spotsylvania County who is spending nights and weekends going door-to-door in an effort to unseat Davis, 54, who also sits on the powerful House Armed Services Committee and recently was named to the committee that oversees the government's intelligence community.
Lee, who is funding the campaign with less than $1,000 of his own money, said he doesn't expect to win, but he said his campaign "is definitely a serious attempt to get her out of office."
Lee describes himself as a classic strict constitutionalist: He opposes the federal government's creating jobs, setting a minimum wage, funding Social Security, allowing a do-not-call list or limiting campaign spending. To Lee, the federal government has no business in state or local issues, and he calls the money Davis has secured for road projects in Stafford County and train station improvements in Fredericksburg "pork spending."
The obscurity of Lee's campaign is partly a result of little money and a lack of endorsements from any organized groups, but it also speaks to Davis's relative security in her conservative, military-oriented district.
"A lot" of people in the 1st District share Lee's reservations about the growth of the federal government, said Paul Jost, a Williamsburg real estate entrepreneur who lost to Davis in the 2000 Republican primary and now calls himself "a convert."
"If you go back to the original Constitution, we'd have a national defense, and there wouldn't be much more than that," he said.
The 1st District runs from Hampton Roads north along the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, including Williamsburg and the rural Northern Neck, into greater Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford. It has about 700,000 people, including 40,000 federal workers -- active and retired -- and nearly a dozen major military installations, including Quantico Marine Corps Base and Langley Air Force Base.
Although Davis was initially known as the rural Virginia real estate agent who beat four Republicans in the 2000 primary -- including Jost, who spent $1 million of his own money and was endorsed by then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III -- she now gets praise from Republicans and some Democrats for her doggedness on issues, such as trying to curb Virginia's massive trash industry, and for being willing to challenge her party on behalf of federal workers.
"She has real concerns about federal employees and does a thoughtful job," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee. Davis was appointed chairman of the committee's civil service subcommittee, which includes management of federal employees' benefits, but gave up that position to join the intelligence committee.
Waxman also praised Davis's willingness to break slightly from a Department of Defense proposal to change benefits for its civilian employees. "She is a Republican and came up with a bill that I thought wasn't good enough for public workers, but she made it better and showed some independence," he said.
Davis, a supporter of the war in Iraq, calls defense her "number one" issue and has fought to keep stable and even enlarge the size of the U.S. Navy.
One of her pet issues is the $48 million she got to remove the "ghost fleet" of dilapidated ships, many with fuel on board, in the James River off Newport News.
Some environmental groups praise her work on the ghost fleet and the trash industry and her opposition to a reservoir that Newport News wants in King William County. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the proposal would flood 300 acres of wetlands. But the national League of Conservation Voters ranks Davis near the bottom, saying she voted the wrong way on 95 percent of key environmental issues.
Lee doesn't quibble with specific votes, saying his objection to Davis is broader. "She has gotten away from her constitutional duties," he said. Lee said he also is strong on defense, believing it to be government's proper role. He said his only problem with the way the war in Iraq has been handled is that Congress should have declared war rather than simply authorizing Bush to use force. "They abdicated their authority," he said.
Lee says he is against gay marriage and abortion rights. In 2000, Davis ran on a conservative platform of support for school vouchers and opposition to abortion under any circumstances. Analysts attributed her victory to her success in mobilizing support from religious conservatives.
She says social issues are not her focus. But she co-sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and her Web site touts her introduction of legislation that would require women who go to family planning clinics to get information about adoption. She says she wants to pass legislation keeping U.S. servicewomen from having abortions at military-funded facilities.
Rep. Thomas S. Davis III, the Fairfax Republican who chairs the Committee on Government Reform and is no relation to Jo Ann Davis, said that although she fairly reflects her constituents, no Virginia legislator can be assured of victory amid so much demographic change.
"I think as the state becomes more urbanized, the social mores change; it becomes more centrist," he said. "It's a Republican state, but not safely so."