Warner’s retirement causes stirrings in Davis’s district

When Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) announced his retirement on Friday, he not only made his own seat a 2008 battleground, he almost surely sent the House GOP’s most tenuous Virginia seat into a state of flux.

Warner’s retirement and Rep. Tom Davis’s (R-Va.) imminent entry into the race to succeed him would force the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to defend a bona fide swing district that Davis has carried with ease for years.

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The impending 2007 state general assembly and county elections have things on hold for many potential Republican candidates and at least one Democrat until November. Among them is Davis, who might delay an official decision for state races, which include his wife’s state Senate reelection bid.

In the meantime, Davis’s status in the district means most early jostling will occur behind the scenes, and many believe the former NRCC chairman will try to handpick his successor.

His wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R), has all but pulled her name from consideration, but a bevy of state and local legislators and a former member of Congress have been mentioned as potential replacements for Davis.

On the national scale, it’s another headache for the Republican Party, which already is dealing with retirements and scandal throwing a number of other formerly safe seats into the competitive column.

Five members retired last month — Reps. Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Dennis Hastert (Ill.), Ray LaHood (Ill.), Chip Pickering (Miss.) and Deborah Pryce (Ohio) — and all but Pickering’s district figure to provide an opening for Democrats.

Davis’s district, which voted narrowly for President Bush in 2004 and has trended sharply toward Democrats in recent years, is arguably more vulnerable than any of those five.

“The Democrats have done very well in the last couple statewide races, and Northern Virginia was the margin of victory both for [Sen. Jim] Webb and for [Gov. Tim] Kaine,” a law professor at the University of Richmond, Carl Tobias, said. “There’s a very good chance a Democrat could pick up that seat.”

Republicans believe having Davis at the top of the ticket or campaigning for a successor will help them in the district.

The picture appears clearer and stronger for Democrats at this point. They already have a candidate in Iraq war veteran Doug Denneny and could field a pair of well-known political figures in Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly and former Rep. Leslie Byrne.

Denneny has met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Connolly is seen as a likely candidate. Byrne, who has run for a number of offices in recent years and held the seat for two years before losing to Davis, is more of a wild card at this point.

“An open seat in Virginia’s 11th district makes it a top pick-up opportunity for Democrats,” DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said.

Republicans, meanwhile, could face a late-forming and crowded primary, led by a pair of state legislators — state Sen. Jay O’Brien and state Del. Tim Hugo — and Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart.

U.S. Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton also confirmed to The Hill that he is weighing a bid for the GOP nomination and said he would seek Davis’s support if he were to run.

Connaughton would be leaving a presidentially appointed position.

“I’m considering it, and I’ll be talking to Tom about it after he makes his decision about what he’s going to do,” Connaughton said.

O’Brien is currently in a very difficult reelection bid and demurred when asked about a potential congressional run, but Virginia insiders expect him to be in the mix.

“I can’t entertain a second thought about dinner on Nov. 8,” O’Brien said.

Hugo echoed those sentiments: “I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and e-mails, but I’ve got a race that’s 66 days away, and I’m focused on that right now.”

Stewart is facing his second election in two years but said he “is not closing any doors.” He said Connolly will be difficult to beat because of his fundraising prowess.

Devolites Davis, who is also locked into a difficult state Senate reelection bid this year, appeared to rule out a congressional bid in response to The Hill’s inquiry last week.

“I have no intention of ever running for the U.S. Congress,” she said. “I love state government and intend to stay there as long as my constituents are willing to allow me to represent them. I’ll let Tom work on the federal level — it’s not for me.”

State Del. Dave Albo (R), a Davis protégé who had been thought to be a potential contender, said he doesn’t have the desire to take on the requirements of representing an area that expects so much from its representative.

“There was a time that I thought that I would like to do it, but I just don’t want to be a full-time politician,” Albo said.