An Oct. 26 Metro article incorrectly said that U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) ran unopposed in Virginia's 11th District in 2002. Constitution Party candidate Frank Creel ran against Davis. (Published 11/5/04)

Until Election Day two years ago, Ken Longmyer's career was grounded in policy, not politics. Then he stepped into a voting booth in his Fairfax County precinct and saw that his congressman in Virginia's 11th District, Republican Thomas M. Davis III, had no Democratic opponent.

He wrote himself onto the ballot. "I said to my wife, 'If the Democrats don't come up with a solid candidate in two years, I'm running,' " Longmyer recalled.

Now, with a late start, limited name recognition and relatively little money, Longmyer says he can bring what he's learned in a career in the Foreign Service to Capitol Hill as he takes on Davis, a rising House leader in a Republican-friendly district, in the Nov. 2 election.

"Even if I haven't run for public office, I have a lot of the experience necessary to be in public office," said Longmyer, 66, who launched his race for Congress in April after retiring from the State Department.

Drawing on his work in promoting democratic institutions abroad with a focus on strengthening trade unions, Longmyer is selling himself to 11th District voters as an alternative to Davis on a variety of national, rather than regional, issues. Longmyer opposes the war in Iraq, which Davis supports, and he criticizes Davis and the Bush administration for allowing millions of Americans to go without health insurance.

"If Germany and Sweden can afford to give their citizens health insurance, we can afford it," Longmyer said, pointing to strong social welfare traditions in those countries, where he served as a diplomat. He calls democracy "an almost religious thing with me," recalling his years of service in Jerusalem; Bonn and Bremen in Germany; and Stockholm.

Longmyer also calls for stronger laws to protect the environment and says he would fully fund the No Child Left Behind law, the president's signature education program.

He is counting on the tight presidential race to work in his favor. Longmyer's campaign operates out of Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's Northern Virginia headquarters in Merrifield, and his themes echo the Massachusetts senator's. "What I'm saying to my constituents is, certainly John Kerry will win in Northern Virginia. Vote for him, but give him a Congress he can work with," Longmyer said.

In Davis, Longmyer is pressing against a powerhouse in Northern Virginia politics who has represented most of Fairfax County for 25 years as a supervisor, board chairman and then as a five-term congressman in a district that also includes western Prince William County. Davis beat a Democratic opponent in 2000 with close to two-thirds of the vote. Unopposed in 2002, he got 82.9 percent. GOP-led redistricting after the 2000 census gave him more Republican-leaning precincts in the two counties.

But Longmyer said he is what Democrats in the 11th are looking for: an experienced alternative to Davis, whom he derides as more conservative than he appears and in lockstep with conservative leaders in the House. Davis denies that and says he has voted independently on myriad issues.

While Davis cites his service to constituents on local concerns, Longmyer talks less about local issues on the campaign trail. "I tend to talk about personal issues," such as universal health care coverage, he said.

Tall and lanky, with a salt-and-pepper beard, Longmyer appears self-confident and makes frequent references to well-known diplomats with whom he has worked. Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, held a fundraiser for him this month, his campaign said.

Longmyer, who lives in the Sleepy Hollow area outside Falls Church, was born in Meridian, Miss., and grew up in a small town in neighboring Alabama. At 16, he left the South to attend college in California, and he taught high school briefly before entering the Foreign Service. Before his retirement, he held several domestic posts, as an adviser to the Clinton administration on Bosnian peace implementation, the State Department's director for Holocaust issues and special assistant for U.N. counterterrorism and homeland security.

"We've got a very credible candidate with a wealth of experience," said Emilie Miller, a former state senator who chairs the 11th District Democratic Committee. The committee nominated Longmyer after Democrat Ron Christian decided not to run.

Miller said Longmyer's candidacy is resonating with black voters in Prince William, where he has appeared frequently at churches in Dale City and Woodbridge. "He has a built-in constituent base because he is African American," she said.

In recent weeks, Davis has made an issue of his challenger's ties to former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D). Longmyer worked for approximately six months as an aide to McKinney, who drew controversy for her support for Palestinian causes and her suggestion that President Bush might have had warning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. McKinney lost her seat two years ago and is running again this year.

Davis has called McKinney and Longmyer "far-out liberals" to the left of mainstream voters. The Longmyer campaign said the candidate worked for McKinney in 1996, years before her controversial public comments.

"The only thing Tom can use against Ken is that he worked for this one congresswoman for six months," said Longmyer spokesman George Burke.

Ken Longmyer, gesturing, talks to Sonia Jurich and Bruno Carvalho, holding Lucas, 21/2, at the Dunn Loring Metro stop. "Even if I haven't run for public office, I have a lot of the experience necessary to be in public office," Longmyer says.