Democrat James Olin, 62, a retired General Electric executive, is the new congressman from Virginia's 6th Congressional District in the Roanoke Valley, succeeding retiring Republican Rep. M. Caldwell Butler, who had held the seat since 1972.
Olin entered politics as a second career, reminding voters of his business background which, he said, would give him an advantage in tackling federal budget deficits. He did a poll early in the campaign showing that voters, by 56 to 14 percent, would prefer a businessman to a college professor, the occupation of his Republican opponent, state Del. Kevin Miller of Harrisonburg.
Olin, a native of Illinois, characterized himself as the moderate. Miller is a conservative who campaigned for tuition tax credits, national right-to-work laws and support for this year's balanced budget amendment.
"He would discontinue most functions of government," said Olin of his opponent, "I'm a conservative Democrat. I put myself in the middle."
Supporters credit Olin with running a blunt, issue-oriented campaign. Taking issue with the balanced budget amendment as it was proposed in Congress in the last session, he said, "It was all a myth, fluff really."
The loss of the 6th District was a blow to Republicans who have held the seat since 1952. Even during the days of the Democratic organization run by the late Sen. Harry F. Byrd, the Roanoke Valley had a history of leaning Republican, a tradition left over from the 19th century when the small farmers in the mountains and foothills were out of sympathy with state's ruling oligarchy.
Given the nature of the district, local politicians note that Olin may have trouble keeping the seat. This year, he was able to win largely because he had no rival in his home base in the Roanoke Valley. A stronger Republican from Roanoke would present a more difficult challenge, they said.