As Davis retires, holding Virginia-11 poses tough challenge for Republicans

Republican House candidate Keith Fimian has a campaign war chest a third larger than his opponent’s. And he’s running in a district held by a popular member of his own party for the past 13 years. But he has a tough hill to climb.

Fimian’s problem is that Virginia’s 11th district has tilted left in recent years, even though retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R) won by 11 points last cycle. And the area, which includes Tysons Corner and affluent Northern Virginia suburbs, is a place where a third of the residents are Asian, black or Hispanic and a quarter of the residents now speak a language other than English at home.


President Bush carried the district by about 2,000 votes in 2004. Two years later, Jim Webb (D) defeated then-Sen. George Allen (R) by 55 percent to 44. And this year, with Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires Biden's new campaign ad features Obama speech praising him MORE (D-Ill.) planning to campaign for the state’s 13 electoral votes and popular former Gov. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Sen. Warner calls on State Department to take measures to protect against cyberattacks MORE (D) the front-runner for a Senate seat, Democrats are poised to do well again in the area.

Fimian will face Democrat Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors who won a heated primary Tuesday. Fimian, founder of a national home inspection company, is running as an outsider with business bona fides in a year calling for change.

“The question is: How do we change?” said Fimian. “If you’re [for a] command-and-control, Soviet-style government, where you just continue to add to our spending and debt, then a Democrat would be an appealing candidate.”

Instead, voters want a “new way of thinking,” Fimian said. “Voters are looking for an outsider.”

“If this were a Republican year — if this were 1994 — [Fimian] might be favored,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia professor of politics. “But it’s 2008, it’s a Democratic year, and demographics have been transformed in a Democratic direction.”

Fimian, who hasn’t run for any high-profile political office before, has at least shown that he can raise money, Sabato said. The campaign said it has raised more than $1 million (a total that also includes $300,000 Fimian himself contributed). Fimian, who has stepped down from day-to-day control of his company, U.S. Inspect, has been touting his business know-how.

“Because I’m a CPA [certified public accountant], I understand numbers,” said Fimian, who worked for accounting firm KPMG before starting his own business. “I know that current rates of spending are big trouble ahead, whatever your party is. We must get spending under control.”

Connolly has raised about $653,000, according to the latest campaign finance filings. He said he spent about as much in his primary battle.

But Connolly is favored in the race, according to Sabato, since he’s a powerful and well-known local official.

His support showed in Tuesday’s primary, when he beat former Rep. Leslie Byrne (D) 58 percent to 33.

“He’s very well-established in Fairfax and has an excellent organization,” Sabato said. “He wouldn’t be chairman of the Board of Supervisors if he wasn’t. It’s no accident that Davis was also chairman of the board and used that same position [to get to Congress].”

Connolly plans to tout that experience during the campaign.

“I guess there are some election cycles in which experience is not the asset it normally might be, but in this district, this is a very thoughtful electorate, and I think they do prize relevant experience that can be put to use for them,” Connolly said.

He added that he plans to be connected “at the hip” with Warner this summer and fall. Connolly even had kind words for Davis, saying that he’s been called his “Democratic analog — moderate, centrist, pragmatic Democrat, focused on results, building bipartisan coalitions to get things done.”

The district, created in 1991, was designed to have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Davis benefited from the split electorate, having shown independence from Republican leaders by criticizing them over their response to Hurricane Katrina and by being staunchly in favor of abortion rights. Fimian said he hopes to work with Democrats, too, perhaps on ways to reduce the cost of entitlement programs.

Sensing an opening over economic issues, Republicans have tried to tie Connolly to the Democratic-led Congress on the issue of spending.

“Fimian is a political outsider who is running a campaign based on his commitment to lower taxes and job creation,” the National Republican Congressional Committee wrote in a memo after Connolly’s primary victory. The memo went on to blame Connolly for increased levies in Fairfax County.

But in a year when even Davis, a former House Republican campaign chairman, said that the Republican brand is ailing, Connolly can keep things simple.

“Here’s his message: ‘I’m the Democratic candidate,’ ” Sabato said.

Aaron Blake contributed to this article.