In a matter of months, Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District has morphed from the home court of popular Republican Tom Davis to a left-leaning battleground in which two major Democratic candidates are spending most of their time trying to outdo each other's liberal credentials.And this is even sweeter.
"It is clear that Fairfax County has turned blue and has had a great series of elections," said Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), who has endorsed Connolly. "Democrats are gaining ground at all levels, and I think we have a real good shot at picking up this House seat. Clearly, both candidates are going after the folks who have been Democrats a long time and believe in a substantial amount of the Democratic values."Yes, they're even contending for union support.
That dynamic has produced a series of attempts at left-leaning one-upmanship between Byrne and Connolly, who have traded comments questioning their opponent's progressive credentials and highlighting their own. Just this week, Byrne accused Connolly of misappropriating the logo of the National Organization for Women in a mailing. The group has endorsed Byrne. Also this week, Connolly cited two major union endorsements as evidence that Byrne's hold on the labor movement is not as strong as she states.
"She's got the steamfitters and the steelworkers," Connolly said. "That's great; they're rewarding her. But the dynamic unions that are growing and that have a different take on things have endorsed me."Both candidates have a claim on labor and liberalism.
"The bottom line is that both have good records on labor and are splitting those votes down the middle," said Daniel Duncan, president of the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council. "People have friends on both sides," said Duncan, whose organization is staying neutral in the June 10 primary. "Leslie has walked many a picket line with us and shown up at many an event. And Gerry, after working with him and lobbying him, did help get the living wage and the big box ordinance."
Byrne, 61, has a long history of liberal activism on such issues as women's rights, labor, health care and the environment. In Congress, where she served for one term before Davis defeated her in 1994, she voted for the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act and pushed such issues as protection of federal wages and increased federal oversight of energy pipelines. She promoted a similar agenda during her seven years in the Virginia House and four in the state Senate.To my mind, Leslie is still the most progressive. She has a history of fighting for women's rights, workers rights, and consumer protection laws. Gerry's done some good things but his ties to developers and the business community go deep. He's always positioned himself as the moderate centrist and he's now trying to reinvent himself to compete in a newly liberal distict.
As a result, Byrne has a list of endorsements from such large and influential groups as NOW, Emily's List, the Communication Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "Leslie has been there and has sought us out over the years," said Marj Signer, president of the Virginia chapter of NOW. "We don't have to ask her where she stands on our issues. She has defined many of those issues."
Connolly, 58, does not concede that point. A popular politician in Fairfax who overwhelmingly won reelection as board chairman in November, Connolly has built a progressive record by promoting energy conservation, fair wage policies and a county rule sought by a grocery workers' union to restrict Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores in Fairfax.
Still, it's worth rejoicing that mainstream candidates are now rushing to join the liberal bandwagon. Could Virginia's 11th CD be the bellwether?