Democratic activists in Virginia's 11th District gave incumbent Thomas M. Davis III a free ride in two of the last three elections, failing to field an opponent to the popular GOP congressman. But this season, a challenger has emerged to take on Davis, hoping to win on John F. Kerry's coattails.
Ken Longmyer, 66, is a political novice, but he brings a long resume in the federal government to his campaign: a career as a Foreign Service officer. He said he was motivated to seek a seat in Congress by Bush administration policies he dislikes, including the war in Iraq and the government's failure to ensure that millions of uninsured people have access to health care.
Longmyer, who lives in the Falls Church area, has two campaign strategies: He pledges to provide support in Congress for Kerry's policies if the Massachusetts Democrat wins the presidency, and he attacks Davis as being more conservative than he purports to be, voting with the leadership of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives more than his constituents realize.
Davis "has an image he cultivates assiduously," Longmyer said. "But he has gotten in bed with [Majority Leader] Tom DeLay. I strongly believe these are not the views and values of people in the 11th District."
Davis, 55, also will face Green Party candidate Joseph Oddo on Nov. 2.
Davis, who has represented constituents for 25 years as a Fairfax County supervisor, board chairman and then a congressman for five terms, emphasized his "result-oriented" hard work delivering for Northern Virginia residents. Contrary to his opponent's claims, he said, he thinks and votes independently and works with Democrats. Longmyer, meanwhile, has no track record in politics, Davis said. And were he elected, he would be a freshman in a House controlled by the opposition, unable to help his constituents.
"My opponent has never done anything," Davis said. "Nobody knows him. I don't think he has an original idea at all."
Longmyer acknowledged that many of his campaign themes echo Kerry's as he calls for more generous prescription drug benefits for the elderly, reducing the federal deficit, stronger laws to protect the environment and fully funding such federal education laws as No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education program. He said his candidacy is helping Kerry in Northern Virginia by invigorating Democrats. Davis counters that many 11th District voters, even if they choose Kerry on Election Day, will vote Republican for Congress, handing him a sixth term based on his attention to local issues.
High interest in the presidential race has generated a surge in voter registration in the 11th District, a large swath of central Fairfax and Prince William counties whose voters tend to be educated and politically engaged. In 2001, Republican redistricting made the 11th less friendly to Democratic candidates, as Davis gave up the Democratic-leaning Reston area to the 8th District, represented by James P. Moran Jr. (D), and added more conservative western Prince William.
Fundraising in the race has been lopsided, with Davis campaign finance records showing $1.2 million in the bank as of June 30, and Longmyer $5,200. The Longmyer campaign said it will exceed $50,000 by the next filing deadline this month.
Yet Davis, who won his last contested race in 2000 with close to two-thirds of the vote, said he is taking nothing for granted, crisscrossing the district when he is not on the House floor. He and Longmyer have debated twice and plan several more matchups.
In his two years as chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, Davis said, he has worked with Democrats on an overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service, legislation that has not reached the House floor. His committee wrote streamlined rules, enacted into law, for federal contractors to secure government business. And he pushed a pay raise for civilian federal workers through Congress, over the early objections of the Bush administration, he said.
He cites his success at winning federal money to widen Route 123, to launch engineering work on extending Metrorail to Reston and for other transportation projects.
When asked about his ideas on transportation, Longmyer said 11th District residents "need more choices." He cited support for high-occupancy toll lanes and more extensive bus lanes.
Longmyer's Web site and campaign literature do not address traffic gridlock, one of Northern Virginia's most vexing challenges.
Davis, who lives in Vienna, said he has broken with Republican leaders in Congress on a number of issues. He scheduled hearings in his committee on the performance of Halliburton in its sole-source contract for Iraq reconstruction; he voted against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve; and, mostly recently, he spoke out against overturning the District's ban on handguns.
Longmyer criticized Davis for taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from drug companies as he voted against negotiating lower prices with the industry and fought reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada. He also criticized Davis for supporting a 1999 gun show law that reduced the waiting period for completing background checks to 24 hours from three days.
Davis called the attack "splitting hairs" and said he voted against the shorter waiting period when it was debated as an amendment to the bill. He approved the bill's final version, which tightened other restrictions on buying guns and included an amendment he authored requiring trigger locks on new handguns.
He said he opposes buying prescription drugs from Canada because they cannot be guaranteed safe.
Oddo, a freelance writer and sales consultant, could not be reached at the telephone number listed on his Web site and with the Board of Elections. He has run unsuccessfully for the Virginia General Assembly. His Web site says he opposes the administration's policies on the Iraq war and would work to reduce the federal deficit.