When it comes to Members who are considered safe bets for re-election, 12-term Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is about as entrenched as they come.
Wolf has won re-election with at least 60 percent of the vote against underfunded and unknown opponents since 1984. In 2002 he won with 72 percent.
[IMGCAP(1)] But one-time Hill staffer and former Wall Street executive James Socas maintains that Wolf won’t have it so easy this year.
The Democrat is challenging Wolf in November, and while the odds of him upsetting the incumbent still don’t look promising, Socas is running against Wolf like no one in recent memory.
In the second quarter of the year, Socas ranked as one of the top fundraisers among Democratic challengers across the country. He raised $405,000 in the three-month period, roughly $170,000 of that amount coming from his own pocket.
Even more impressive is that Socas was one of a handful of House challengers to snag a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month.
Socas surmised that he was granted that opportunity based on the belief among some Democrats that Virginia, which has not voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1964, could be in play come November.
“I think there are some characteristics of our district which are meaningful to Virginia being in play,” Socas said in an interview Friday.
The 10th district is solidly Republican territory that encompasses much of Northern Virginia. It stretches from the high-tech corridor of Fairfax across the fast-developing suburbs of Loudoun County to the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. It gave President Bush a 56 percent to 41 percent winning margin in his 2000 contest against then-Vice President Al Gore.
Socas is fully aware that the partisan make-up of the district is slanted against him. He admits, “We do have some historical patterns to overcome.”
But he points to special-election
winners Stephanie Herseth (S.D.) and Ben Chandler (Ky.) as examples of Democrats who have beaten the odds in GOP-friendly territory.
“I think if you look at historical numbers, it’s a 55-45 district,” Socas said. “But there are a lot of districts that are a lot more Republican than that around the country.”
Socas maintains that the mood of the well-educated voters in his suburban district favors Democrats and the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), this fall. And he believes those same voters are open to considering an alternative to Wolf, whom Socas charges is out of touch with the “centrist values” of the district.
“I think when you look at Frank Wolf’s record, it is so far outside the mainstream,” Socas said, charging that an analysis of Wolf’s voting record shows he is to the right of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
“This district is not further to the right of Tom DeLay,” Socas said. “He has never faced a challenger that has run against him on his real record.”
Still, even with Socas’ fundraising success and his passionate belief that the 10th district is ready for change, the race has hardly registered on the radar screens of national Democrats. And, unlike the special elections earlier this year in which Herseth and Chandler were victorious, it’s a safe bet that national party money and support will not flow to boost Socas’ efforts.
Still, a spokesman for Wolf’s campaign said the Congressman is taking nothing for granted this year.
“We’re taking this race very seriously for the simple fact that Socas is a multimillionaire who could self-finance this race and has already shown a willingness to put $170,000 of his own money into the race,” said Wolf campaign manager Dan Scandling.
Wolf’s campaign points out that for all of Socas’ apparent fundraising success, he has yet to show a groundswell of local support, noting that Socas has raised less than $40,000 from within the district.
Socas’ personal financial disclosure forms indicate that he has a net worth of between $7 million and $28 million and that in the last year he worked on Wall Street he earned almost $4.5 million.
Socas, a New York native who moved to the district in January 2003, graduated from the University of Virginia then worked his way through Harvard Business School. After working in the technology industry and in international banking on Wall Street, Socas went to work on Capitol Hill. He was a staffer for the Senate Banking and Urban Affairs Committee for a little more than a year before quitting his job to run full-time for Congress.
“I have told people that it is David versus Goliath,” Socas said. “What people remember of that story — what I remember of that story — is that David won. I think we can win this race. I think the national mood is one of change, and I think the district and Virginia’s mood is one of change.”
Stay tuned to see if the voters agree in November.