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House GOP Aiding Wittman in Virginia Special Election

Less than two weeks before voters select a successor for the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.), the National Republican Congressional Committee has begun sinking a modest amount of money into the race and House GOP leaders have set up a campaign committee to help the party’s nominee, state Del. Rob Wittman.

By most accounts, Wittman is favored over Democrat Philip Forgit, a teacher and Iraq War veteran, in a district that preferred President Bush by 21 points over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 White House election. But the GOP activity suggests that national Republicans are taking nothing for granted in a state where Democrats made major gains in this month’s legislative elections and where turnout on Dec. 11 is expected to be extremely light and unpredictable.

Yet despite the Republican efforts, and Forgit’s own optimism, national Democrats do not appear to be rushing to Forgit’s aid. Sources said party leaders have concluded that the special election period was simply too short — Wittman and Forgit won nominating conventions on Nov. 10 — for any national Democratic spending to make the district truly competitive.

But one Democratic strategist in Virginia said the compressed nature of the election means the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee could pour money into the race at the very last minute and still make a difference.

“Each day of the campaign has become a week of a regular campaign,” the operative said.

And Forgit himself said he expects the DCCC, buoyed by the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and its significant fundraising advantage over the NRCC, to “double-down” next week.

“This is an opportunity and we fully expect the national leadership to come through for us in the end because it would be a shame to lose this opportunity,” he said.

NRCC officials refused to comment about the committee’s strategy in the special election.

But the committee’s independent expenditure arm this week spent almost $8,000 to produce an ad attacking Forgit that hasn’t yet aired, bringing its total expenditures for anti-Forgit activity to almost $39,000. The NRCC also has spent about $3,100 on phone banks to help Wittman.

NRCC officials are touting the fact that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week pledged to try to secure a slot on the Armed Services Committee for Wittman if he is elected. In a heavily military district, that pledge could help counter whatever appeal Forgit has as an Iraq War veteran who continues to be an active Naval reservist.

“Rob Wittman’s candidacy is already turning heads and gaining steam,” said Ken Spain, an NRCC spokesman. “His commitment to serving the district’s needs and interests recently earned him an important pledge from Republican Leader John Boehner to secure support for a seat on the House Armed Services Committee.”

Meanwhile, a new fundraising entity called the VA-1 Congressional Victory Committee registered earlier this month with the Federal Election Commission and through this afternoon showed contributions from the campaign committees and political action committees of Boehner, NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) totaling $19,000.

Because the campaign period has been so short, neither Wittman nor Forgit has had to file a full fundraising report with the FEC, though Wittman reported receiving contributions of almost $19,000 during the past two days.