Davis rebukes state and national GOP in turning down Senate bid

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) delivered a harsh critique of the national and Virginia Republican Party on Thursday as he officially announced his decision not to run for the Senate next year.

Davis said it is “probably not the right time” for him to run for Senate, citing the state Republican Party’s decision to select its nominee using a convention, which he said hurts the party in the general election by keeping its candidates behind closed doors.

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Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Davis would not say whether he will run for reelection to the House next year but insisted the “rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.”

As for the Senate race, he said, “we’re not going to be doing that.”

Looking at the larger picture, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee cast his gripe with the Republican Party of Virginia as merely a symptom of a larger problem with a national party that is resisting a makeover.

Davis said the party is “at a fork in the road right now, and we’re standing still.”

“In my opinion, if the Republicans want to be a national party, we’re going to have to change the way we do some things,” Davis said. “To date, that isn’t happening. … We’re at a low point in urban areas and the Northeast.”

Davis, a centrist who represents a swing district in increasingly liberal Northern Virginia, said Republicans need to reach out to more ethnic groups, and he criticized Republican candidates for conceding those votes to Democrats.

All of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination skipped a debate focused on black issues last month.

Davis also said the GOP needs to change the “issue matrix,” which has been based largely on cultural and social issues in recent years. He said returning the focus to economic issues could help the party woo voters in the suburbs and cities.

He noted that Democrats didn’t press the gun control issue after the massacre at Virginia Tech University in April and said it was a savvy move to avoid irritating key demographics that helped put them in power in 2006.

At the same time, Davis said he expects the landscape to change significantly in the year between now and the 2008 elections, which should provide his party an opportunity to rebound.

“What’s surprising a lot of Republicans is that we got punished last November, and people didn’t say, ‘Your punishment’s over,’ ” he said. “You have to earn your way back, and so far we haven’t done enough to earn our way back.”

Davis said the convention is the wrong call by the state party because it doesn’t allow the GOP candidates to build up their name ID in preparation for the tough bid against popular and well-known former Gov. Mark Warner (D).

He also cast doubt on former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s (R) viability in the general election, but he said he would support his party’s nominee. Asked whether he would try to recruit another candidate for the race, Davis said he plans to be disengaged for now.

Gilmore is widely expected to enter the race following November’s state legislative elections.

His spokesman, Dick Leggett, responded with a shot at Davis.

“Davis has done a very able job representing Northern Virginia, but it is apparent the Republican Party would like a candidate to face Mark Warner who offers a contrast, not an echo,” Leggett said.

At stake is the Senate seat being vacated by longtime Sen. John Warner (R) at the end of this Congress.

Mark Warner is expected to be his party’s nominee and is the early front-runner for the seat, polling 30 points ahead of Davis and Gilmore in a recent Washington Post survey.

Davis said Warner is “formidable” but not unbeatable.

He also talked about the stresses of the constant campaigning in his household. In 2006, he won his smallest percentage (55) since first being elected, and his wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R), is facing a difficult reelection bid of her own in a week and a half.
Asked whether he was disappointed not to be running for Senate, a position he has long coveted, Davis said: “Not at all.”