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Fimian, Man Of Mystery

Gerry Connolly’s victory in Virginia’s contentious 11th district Democratic primary on Tuesday brought an end to the not-so-friendly fire that party activists had been aiming at each other for six months.

But now that they are setting their sights on the November general election, the first question many of those Democrats (and a lot of Republicans) are asking themselves is: Just who the heck is Keith Fimian?

Throughout the Democratic primary battle between Connolly, the well-known chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and former Rep. Leslie Byrne, Fimian’s uncontested campaign for the Republican nomination was treated as a bit of a sideshow. In most news accounts, Fimian was simply the rich businessman who, although he’s raised a gobs of money, would nevertheless be the underdog in November.

Now that the general election campaign in the competitive district has officially begun, Fimian said in an interview Wednesday that he’s working hard to introduce himself to voters.

The founder of U.S. Inspect, the nation’s largest provider of residential and commercial property inspection services, Fimian has lived in Northern Virginia for 22 years and went to school at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Fimian is a family man who married his high school sweetheart and in his free time serves as president of the Youth Leadership Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based program that works with disadvantaged inner-city youth.

An occasional Republican donor over the years — he’s given more in the past year than he previously did

— Fimian’s path to a Congressional bid began last summer during a barbecue at the home of the man he hopes to replace in the House, retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R).

At the time, Davis was publicly expressing his interest in running for Senate if Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) opted for retirement. Because of those statements, candidates on both sides of the aisle — including Connolly and Byrne — were beginning to position themselves for a run in his district. On the Republican side, state Del. Tim Hugo and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart were names mentioned early for the seat.

Fimian, who knew Davis through his business and community work but was never heavily involved in politics, was attending a get-together at the Congressman’s home in July when Davis told him that he would not be running for his House seat again.

“He opened the door for me and I ran right through,” Fimian said.

Though Warner eventually did announce his retirement plans, Davis decided to take a pass on a Senate bid in October after the state party decided to select its candidate through a nominating convention rather than a primary.

By that time, Fimian already had filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and, at Davis’ recommendation, was concentrating on filling his campaign war chest.

Fimian seeded his campaign with a $200,000 personal loan in August and added another $125,000 in December. At the end of 2007, Fimian had raised more than $700,000 for his race and, by the time Davis officially announced his plans to retire in January, Fimian had a campaign account that would give any would-be challenger second thoughts about taking him on.

“I met with a number of people one on one who might come into the race to express, as a courtesy to them, that I intended to do this,” Fimian said. “I think they saw the fire in my eyes that I was going to do this.”

Throughout the process, Fimian said, Davis was supportive with advice, but also cautious about Fimian’s candidacy.

“Tom wanted to see for himself how things might evolve and, as any good politician would, he was certainly early on not going to jump behind a total unknown,” Fimian said.

After passing the $1 million mark in fundraising, keeping out challengers and obtaining the support of Republican leaders, Fimian and his campaign are now eager to concentrate on letting the voters of the 11th district voters know who he is.

That process will be easier now that the noise of the Democratic primary has died down. Essentially, Fimian wants to be seen as the outsider with a business background who is going to Washington, D.C., to fix a system that no longer works. Part of that campaign strategy involves defining Connolly — a man whom many voters already know and have an opinion about — as “just another career politician.”

“Absent new leadership, we are going to get more of the same,” Fimian said. “And that is what this race comes down to: My opponent is more of the same. … I dare to say if we had a Congress full of small-business men and women like me, we would have few of the problems that we currently have.”

But making those themes stick in the minds of voters will be tough, as Connolly isn’t expected to just sit back and let himself be defined. More likely, he’ll work to define Fimian as a Republican who will only bring more of the same when it comes to partisan politics.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Connolly sought to juxtapose his own record of accomplishment in Fairfax County with the failures of the Bush administration.

“Getting things done. Results that matter. That’s the ethos that imbues my approach as the chief elected official of Virginia’s largest local government,” Connolly said. “Sadly, that spirit is not what characterizes our federal government, a government that is broken and dysfunctional here at home and abroad.”

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