Is Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a fixture in Washington area politics for two decades, casting his eyes on greener -- as in, more lucrative -- pastures?

Davis, a Fairfax County Republican who is considered one of the top strategists in the House GOP caucus, is a political junkie whose love for the minutiae of elections is surpassed only by his obsession with baseball statistics. So most people have assumed he'd have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from his job as chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

But several sources in both parties in Virginia and on Capitol Hill said they are hearing that Davis is a candidate to head the National Federation of Independent Business, one of the nation's leading lobbying organizations. Its president and chief executive, Jack Faris, announced his retirement in March, and a search for a new leader has been underway since then.

Davis is also said to have been offered a similarly generous job at a high-tech firm in Northern Virginia. Before entering politics, Davis worked as a lawyer for a number of Northern Virginia firms.

Either job would pay handsomely. Davis, who makes about $158,000 a year as a member of the House, recently married Jeannemarie Devolites (R), a state senator in Virginia. While buzzing about Davis's future, the professional speculators yesterday wondered aloud whether she might run for his old seat.

Reached on his cell phone Wednesday, Davis denied that there is anything old about his seat. "I'm not going anywhere," he said. But he pointedly declined to say whether he had been in talks with the NFIB. "I'm running for reelection, if that's what your question is," he said. "But stay tuned."

A spokesman for the NFIB said the organization's search for a new leader is being conducted in secret by a private search firm. Spokesman Michael Diegel said he did not know whether Davis is a finalist.

"I have absolutely no idea," Diegel said, adding that employees were told recently that the field has been narrowed to three people.

But Republican sources said Sens. George Allen and John W. Warner have been urged by GOP operatives to talk sense into Davis -- reflecting the anxiety that the party could lose the seat to a Democrat if Davis bolts. His district, which includes central Fairfax and parts of Prince William County, has been competitive in the past.

"The NRCC boys are worried," one GOP consultant said, referring to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is in charge of election campaigns for the House GOP. "They're hitting the panic button a bit."

Rhode Island Mayor to Challenge Chafee

Stephen Laffey, the Republican mayor of Cranston, R.I., announced yesterday that he will challenge Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) for their party's nomination for next year's election.

"The problem is Washington is now completely run by the special interests, and I don't think Lincoln Chafee is standing up and fighting for Rhode Island taxpayers," Laffey said.

The decision puts Chafee, who had already been considered one of his party's most vulnerable incumbents, in a two-pronged fight for reelection. Conservatives, who have long complained that he is not a team player, say that he not only frequently defies the GOP leadership, but he didn't even vote for President Bush last year. (Chafee has said he wrote in former president George H.W. Bush's name. ) Democrats see Rhode Island as their turf -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) won the presidential race there last year by more than 20 percentage points -- and view the contest as one of their best chances to pick up a seat.

Laffey's decision is a blow to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which had tried to persuade him not to run and is backing the incumbent. Laffey, 43, a former investment banker who became mayor in 2003, shrugged off the NRSC's endorsement of Chafee. "Insiders back insiders," he said. "I'm an outsider. I'm not a career politician."

Chafee's office dismissed Laffey's announcement as long-expected. "The senator has expected he was going to have a primary all along, and we're fully prepared for it," his spokesman said. "We take it very seriously."