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Ehrlich Aid Could Augur Davis Move

Nobody can say that Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) has forgotten where he came from.

On Sept. 8, Ehrlich is set to headline a fundraiser in Fairfax, Va., on behalf of Rep. Tom Davis’ (R-Va.) leadership political action committee.

The $1,000-per-person event at the home of Milt Peterson, a well-known Fairfax real-estate developer, is expected to raise at least $100,000 for the Federal Victory Fund.

The event marks the first time that Ehrlich, since winning the governor’s mansion in November 2002, has raised money for any of his old colleagues still in Congress.

“The governor developed some real and lasting friendships when he was a Member of Congress,” said Paul Schurick, Ehrlich’s communications director. “He wants to help them with their political futures.”

Ehrlich, a moderate Republican who served four terms in the House, has also held a fundraiser for former Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.), who is running for governor this cycle. Additional fundraisers are in the works for other GOP lawmakers, said Schurick.

But the event with Davis is particularly interesting for those attempting to divine the future of Virginia politics.

Davis, who is planning a fundraiser with California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) sometime this fall as well, has repeatedly been mentioned as a potential statewide candidate in the Old Dominion.

The problem with the governor’s race is that Davis would likely face conservative Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore in the Republican primary, which is typically dominated by social conservatives. Davis supports abortion rights and hails from Northern Virginia, not always fertile ground politically for Republicans. Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine is the likely Democratic nominee.

With the threat of competition from Kilgore, Davis, who took over the gavel at the Government Reform Committee in January, may have his eye instead on replacing Sen. John Warner (R) in 2008 if the veteran lawmaker was to retire after 30 years in the Senate.

That race would be more appealing for Davis as he is likely to have a clear shot at his party’s nomination and has a strong general-election profile.

But the contest could turn into a dogfight if current Gov. Mark Warner (D), term-limited out of office in 2005, pivots to run for the Senate. Mark Warner ran for Senate in 1996, losing to incumbent John Warner 52 percent to 47 percent. The Democrat, who is independently wealthy, spent more than $10 million of his own money on that contest.

Davis’ spokesman, David Marin, downplayed any conjecture about Davis’ future ambitions. “They’ve been friends and colleagues for a long time now, and there’s a lot of mutual respect there,” Marin said of Ehrlich and his boss. “They represent neighboring jurisdictions with a lot of issues and challenges in common.”

Marin added: “Anyone is free to speculate, and Davis does believe a key to political success is to be prepared for whatever might lie ahead. But he’s very content with his chairmanship, given the committee’s strong relevance to his home region. In fact, he’s been quoted as saying that he’d rather be chairman than governor. And I’m not aware of any impending vacancies in our Senate delegation.”

Davis himself was out of the country, taking part in a Congressional delegation, and was unavailable for comment.

Despite Marin’s comments, Davis has turned himself into a reliable money machine for Virginia Republicans running for office on the local, state or federal levels, often a sign a lawmaker is seeking higher office himself.

During his four-year tenure as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, with Ehrlich serving as its finance chairman for a portion of that period, Davis steered hundreds of thousands of soft and hard dollars to Virginia Republicans, and dispensed political advice just as freely.

For instance, just before the federal soft-money ban went into effect last November, the NRCC gave $250,000 to the Fairfax County Republican Party for its new headquarters.

So far this cycle, Davis has donated more than $40,000 to Virginia Republicans from the Federal Victory Fund. The PAC had raised $154,335 through June 30 of this year.

The Tom Davis Virginia Victory Fund, a soft-money organization founded by Davis, gave more than $120,000 to state and local candidates between July 1 and Nov. 5, 2002, according to Internal Revenue Service documents. With the federal soft-money ban now in effect, Davis can no longer have anything to do with that PAC, although it’s unclear if it has ceased operations outright.

For his own re-election campaign, Davis raised nearly $630,000 by June 30.

Ehrlich served four terms in the House before running for governor of Maryland. His statehouse victory was the first by a Maryland Republican since Spiro Agnew won there in 1966.

Ehrlich has been no slouch in the fundraising department himself, having already banked at least $2 million toward his own 2006 re-election campaign.

Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.

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