After much anticipation, Rep. Tom Davis won't seek U.S. Senate seat in Virginia

The spate of Republican retirements will make it difficult for his party to take control of Congress in 2008, he said at a Monitor breakfast Thursday.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Representative Tom Davis was the guest of the Christian Science Monitor breakfast in this May 2006 file photo.
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Washington - One of the Republican Party's most astute political tacticians said he would not run for the US Senate, citing both personal exhaustion and the troubled state of his party.

Speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters Thursday, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who represents suburban Virginia, said he would not run for the Senate seat being vacated by John Warner next year. Mr. Davis had long been viewed to be preparing for such a race.

Along with announcing his own plans, Davis delivered a tough critique of the national Republican Party and its leadership. "It should be a competitive presidential race. The difficulty we have right now … is the White House seems tone deaf" on key issues, he said. "In the cloakroom, the members say 'I can't wait until it is over, until we get a new face on the party.' "

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But Davis cautioned reporters: "Don't write us off," noting that "the political landscape will be vastly different, I think, next November than it is now."

Davis, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee for four years, explained why he decided not to run for the Senate. "I have had two exhausting years on the campaign trail." In 2006, he campaigned for his own reelection, and this year, he has been politicking for his wife, Virginia state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, who is in a tight race.

Another factor was the Republican State Central Committee's decision earlier this month to select its candidate to replace Senator Warner through a convention rather than through a primary.

"You can win a convention, but to then turn around and win a general election would be a very difficult undertaking in this political environment," Davis said. "The other problem we have and we have seen this time and time again is once you tear off the scab of the Republicans' moderate-conservative fight, it is very difficult to put it back together." Davis would have faced the more conservative James Gilmore III, Virginia's former governor, in a convention battle.

Davis declined to say whether he would run for reelection to Congress. A spate of Republican retirements – five senators and more than a dozen House members so far – will make it difficult for Republicans to regain control of Congress in 2008.

He said more GOP congressional retirements are likely to come.

But he added, "We can pick up seats … 15 is steep given the retirement situation, given the current political climate. But you know, a year is an eternity in this business…. There are some factors … that give us some hope, but the hardest part right now is just raising money. This is where you find out who your friends are.… K street, the business community, everybody is anteing up for who [they] think will win…. We need some more positive spin, and I just don't think you will see it much until we get a new face on the party."

Both parties can be criticized, Davis said, for focusing on reelection after they come to power, rather than accomplishing good for the American people.

His own party needs to broaden its base and focus less on intramural battles, Davis said. "Right now, Republicans still get more excited about beating other Republicans than they do the Democrats. And I don't think that is a formula for victory."

Davis, who first came to Congress as a page during his high school years said, "We need to grow the party, not shrink the party…. Either you want to grow strategically, or you just want to be right and be comfortable. [Virginia] is changing markedly, and the country is changing markedly, and parties have to change along with it. We have to learn to accommodate. I am not asking anyone to change their views ... but you have to accommodate to grow."

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