Restonian Michael Corrigan was just getting revved up to mount a Democratic challenge to U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) when the unexpected happened. Because of congressional redistricting by the Republican-controlled House, Corrigan suddenly found himself a constituent of the eighth congressional district, which has been represented for 12 years by fellow Democrat James Moran (D-8).
Corrigan had already mounted an unsuccessful campaign against Davis in 2000 in which he had garnered more than 30 percent of the vote and was looking forward to the rematch.
"It's certainly a major disappointment to me," he said. "I would have run against him and beaten him."
"I'm also disappointed because I think it made two districts not competitive," he added. "It's like being in Russia where there's only one name on the ballot. What are you supposed to do?"
Davis faces only Frank Creel of the Constitution Party in the general election and while Moran faces Republican Scott Tate and Independent Ronald Crickenberger, he is widely favored to easily win re-election. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) is also favored to beat his Democratic opponent John Stevens.
Even if it is nice to be represented by a Democrat, Corrigan said, he wouldn't rule out a potential primary race in the future.
NONE OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA'S three congressional races this year are expected to be particularly competitive following the latest round of redistricting after the government wrapped up the 2000 census.
"Congresspeople now pick their voters, not voters picking their congresspeople," said state Sen. Leslie Byrne (D-34). Byrne, who represents eastern Fairfax County in the state Senate was elected to represent the 11th district in the U.S. House in 1992 but lost to Tom Davis in 1994. Like Corrigan, she now founds herself a resident of the eighth district after redistricting.
"I think that we have got to the point nationwide where you've got 34, 35 competitive districts out of 435 and that is historically at an all-time low," she said. "I don't think it's good for our system."
Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for this, she added. Whichever party controls the House during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process tries to strengthen its positions.
"They have basically left the voters out in the cold," she said.
Mike Lane, the campaign manager for Scott Tate who is trying to unseat Moran, said redistricting had not helped his campaign but that he was determined nevertheless to make a strong showing at the polls.
"Incumbent protection was a national trend this year. Virginia was no different," he said. "It's not my job to figure out if it endangers the political system. I don't complain about what I'm given."
Moran's spokesman Dan Drummond said the fact that the race for the eighth district is not very competitive is a reflection of voter satisfaction with the incumbent.
"[Voters] sort of assume he's doing a great job so why do we need to stir the pot?" he asked. "If you've got a guy who's doing it well, what's the reason for challenging that?"
BECAUSE THE CONGRESSIONAL races are so uncompetitive, there has been very little interest so far in the races. Byrne said she expected voter turn-out to be particularly low. So far, more attention has been paid on the sales tax for transportation referendum than on the congressional campaigns, meaning that all three Northern Virginia congressmen could be upstaged by a bond referendum. In fact, the most active campaigners thus far this election season have been elected officials such as Gov. Mark Warner (D) whose seats are not up for re-election this year but who have an interest in seeing the transportation referendum approved.
Corrigan said the upstaging of the candidates by the referendum was "truly sad."
"It doesn't bother us," Drummond said when asked whether he was concerned that most of the attention was being paid to the referendum. "The fact of the matter is that Congressman Moran has represented the eighth district and Northern Virginia extremely well."
But some nonprofit consumer groups and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) have called on Moran to submit to a House Ethics Committee investigation for a loan of over $400,000 he received from credit card company MBNA in 1998. Critics have charged that the loan influenced his position on bankruptcy legislation.
But no member of Congress has signed off on an investigation, which the House Ethics Committee needs to start proceedings. There is currently no House investigation underway. Drummond dismissed the calls as a "media-driven story." Lane said the loan pointed to Moran's "ethical difficulties."
EVEN THOUGH Moran was the only Democratic candidate to run, both Corrigan and Byrne said they thought primary races would become more common in future years as races for the general election become more predictable.
According to Byrne, there was no primary for the Democratic nomination this year because many of the voters in the new eighth district are unfamiliar with Moran. She said voters are willing to send him to the House and examine his record at the end of the next term. Even though Moran has spent many years representing the old eighth district, many voters will not pay attention to legislators who do not represent them, Byrne said.
"The districts are too new to hold people to a standard yet," she said.
Because a Democratic challenger to Moran is almost assured defeat, Corrigan noted, any primary contest would be merely symbolic. No Democrat in the eighth was sufficiently unhappy with Moran to invest in a costly symbolic campaign, he said.
"Clearly no Democrat felt that was a statement they wanted to make," he said.