Republican friends of mine thought that Tom Davis was a bit too eager to add Republican territory to Virginia's Eleventh District during the Republican-controlled redistricting process. At the time, I thought that this was yet another case of an incumbent putting the needs of the individual above the needs of his party. After all, Davis had never won by less than 62% since he wrested the Eleventh away from from one-term incumbent Democrat Leslie Byrne in 1994.
As it turns out Davis was both smart and prescient. The old district leaned a tad Democratic. The new Republican map raised Bush's share of the 2000 vote from 47% to 52%, a small but crucial advantage to the incumbent, though some wondered if the popular Republican really needed a boost. Davis privately argued that the area was trending Democratic and that he needed a cushion. Turned out he was right. Kerry received only 2000 votes, or 1%, less than Bush in the new district in 2004.
Democrats have fared even better in Virginia elections. In the 2005 gubernatorial election, Democrat Tim Kaine received 56% compared to only 42% for Republican Jerry Kilgore. Kaine won 57% in the Fairfax County portion of the district, formerly highly marginal territory, and even more impressively narrowly edged out Kilgore in the Prince William County portion of the district, heretofore solid Republican turf.
Democrat Leslie Byrne lost her race for Lieutenant Governor but received just under 55% in the Eleventh District. The Democratic candidate for attorney general, not from the area, also carried the Eleventh despite losing very narrowly statewide. Davis was sufficiently worried about all of the Democrats moving into his district that he attempted to stop a development around a metro station that many think will speed the influx of Democrats to the area.
An unknown candidate held Davis to 60% in 2004, his lowest margin since winning election in 1994, so you would think Democrats would be lining up to challenge him in 2006. However, according to the DCCC, the one challenger so far, Lawrence Hurst, has never held political office. The Eleventh has many experienced Democratic politicians as the Dems have controlled the Fairfax County government for some time so lack of a farm team is no excuse.
Challenging Davis may be a tough sell. He manages to cultivate a moderate persona despite his position in the House leadership. Unlike some Republicans from Northern Virginia, he works to help the District of Columbia rather than attempting to win political points by bashing it. Democrat Jim Moran, a.k.a. Jim Moron, of the neighboring Eighth District also helps Davis look like a star due to his questionable ethics (anti-Semitic remarks, cosponsoring a bill after accepting a "loan" from a lobbyist and so on).
Democrats ought to nevertheless give this one a run in 2006. The Eleventh is clearly trending Democratic. The incumbent's victory percentages are declining and he is easily tied to the incredibly unpopular Republican congressional leadership. After all. Davis is a senior member of it. Davis will likely have an edge but if a Democratic tide due to Bush's unpopularity creates surprises this is exactly the sort of place that they should win. But you can't win without a strong, experienced candidate.