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Fur Flies in Byrne-Connolly Clash, Dem Vote Tuesday

2 Others Also on 11th Distrct Primary Ballot

In their final head-to-head debate before the Democratic primary election next Tuesday, 11th Congressional District contenders Former Rep. Leslie Byrne and Fairfax County Board Chair Gerry Connolly clashed sharply in what has developed into a highly-contentious race.

 

The debate that also included candidates Former Navy Fighter Pilot Doug Denneny and Physical Therapist Lori Alexander, was carried live on Fairfax County cable access television Sunday night.

By contrast, other primary races in the region are sleepy. Rep. Jim Moran is seeking re-election to a 10th term, facing a nominal challenge from Matt Famiglietti in Tuesday’s 8th District Democratic primary. While two Republicans, Mark Ellmore and Amit Singh, are running hard, it may be only for the opportunity to be soundly defeated by Moran in November.

On the Republican side in the 11th District, with Rep. Tom Davis stepping aside, there’s no primary, and Davis-backed businessman Keith Fimian is the only candidate. In the 10th District, GOP veteran Rep. Frank Wolf is seeking a 14th term, challenged in a primary Tuesday by Vern McKinley of the Cato Institute, while on the Democratic side, Judy Feder, who ran aggressively but lost to Wolf last time, and 28-year Air Force veteran Mike Turner are facing off.

But the spotlight is on Byrne and Connolly, both Democrats with years of public service in the region, but who’ve never been cozy.

Sunday night, the two hurled charges and countercharges stemming from Byrne’s accusation that Connolly gained unduly from an e-mail sent by an executive to employees at a major Fairfax County government contracting firm that could be construed as employee arm-twisting. On Tuesday, Byrne has filed an official complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) about the e-mail.

Connolly denied Byrne’s accusations, which he said have been repeated in “eight to ten postcards” mailed to potential voters, saying they contain “an awful lot of slander.” He added, “It’s a shame to have a Democrat attack a Democrat with the same ‘swift boat’ techniques used by our adversaries…It’s beneath the dignity of the campaign.”
Byrne replied, “It’s no slander, it’s the truth.”

Connolly called Byrne’s FEC filing “a last-minute desperation from Leslie Byrne. This is just her modus operandi, negative campaigning and false accusations.”

Both candidates have been slugging it out down to the wire, hopeful that a victory Tuesday would position them to shift control of the 11th District, which runs in Fairfax County from Falls Church City limits through the eastern and southern portions of the county, from Republican to Democratic control.

With popular Republican Rep. Tom Davis bowing out of a bid for re-election to an eighth two-year term this year, Democrats are optimistic the district will revert to them. Byrne won the district, becoming the first woman Congressman from Virginia in history, in 1992, before losing it to Davis in 1994.

But in the last three Virginia statewide elections, two for governor and one for U.S. Senator, the district has gone decisively pro-Democratic. Demographic shifts toward a younger, more progressive, technology-savvy population, and the unpopularity of President Bush, are given as the causes.

Nationally, Democrats are looking at the district for not only another Congressional seat, but as an area that could tip the balance in the presidential election, as well. It could be where the margin for Barack Obama will be created to turn Virginia “blue” in a presidential election for the first time since 1964.

Bush carried the district by only 1% in 2004 but Democrats Tim Kaine and Jim Webb carried it by big numbers in 2005 and 2006, in both cases accounting for almost all of their statewide margins.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Obama, just two days after clinching the Democratic nomination, is coming to nearby Nissan Pavillion in Bristow for a big public rally (see story, elsewhere this edition).

The region’s more progressive Democratic organizations have sided with Byrne in Tuesday’s election, including the Progressive Democrats, Emily’s List (a women’s rights group) and Democracy for America, the grassroots organization run by Jim Dean, brother of Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean.

Dean said in a statement, “Leslie has stuck to her progressive principles and stood up against the odds.” Byrne has been endorsed by over 30 unions and eight sitting members of Congress, most notably Sen. Jim Webb.

Connolly also boasts of a strong list of endorsements, with Gov. Tim Kaine at the top of his list. Most recently, the Fairfax Coalition of Police, the Fairfax Deputy Sheriff’s Coaltion and the International Union of Police Associations announced their support for Connolly.

In her complaint to the FEC filed Tuesday, Byrne alleged “multiple violations,” including soliciting corporate donations, directing employees to donate, coercion and knowlingly accepting illegal monies, and has called on the FEC to require the Connolly campaign to return contributions from employees of the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), where Connolly is a part-time vice president for community relations.

While Connolly called the filing “negative” and “false,” he said he “plans to spend the next six days like…the last six months, talking about real issues that matter to real people in the 11th District.”