Rep. Rob Wittman (R)
Virginia 1st District
When the English first sailed up the estuaries that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, they were searching for gold, hoping to sail back soon with fortunes. But they couldn’t help noticing that the spot where the James River feeds into the bay, now Hampton Roads, was a fine natural harbor, with calm, deep water and good anchorages. So some of them stayed and established communities that achieved not only the high craftsmanship of restored Williamsburg but also endured the pitiless hardship brought to life by the four-century story of Jamestown and other early settlements. Tidewater Virginia brought slavery to America and tobacco to the world, and slave-raised tobacco was the center of its economy in the colonial era and in the years afterward, when its most talented sons left its depleted soil for better opportunities elsewhere. Now, the economy and tone of life in Tidewater Virginia are set by the American military. More than six decades ago, as America faced world war, the Navy base at Norfolk and the shipbuilding centers in Newport News across Hampton Roads became the center of American naval might in the Atlantic. There were fewer than 370,000 people living then on both sides of Hampton Roads. Today there are more than 1.6 million—a population collected from all over the country, making this a metropolitan area that is not so much Southern in atmosphere as it is, in the manner of military bases abroad, national.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District of Virginia contains much of this territory. The district ranges as far north from the Peninsula as rural Fauquier County, outside Washington, D.C., but the bulk of the population lives between the Potomac and James Rivers. Most of the major Hampton Roads military installations are in surrounding congressional districts, but the 1st remains steeped in military culture, and the Department of Defense and NASA continue to be significant employers. Historic Yorktown is adjacent to a Naval Weapons Station on the banks of the York River. To the north, in Caroline County, Fort A.P. Hill serves as a training site for active and reserve-component units. Not far from there is the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, located on the Potomac River, originally established as the Navy’s main proving ground for large-caliber guns.
The 1st takes in all of 13 counties and parts of five others, including the cities of Fredericksburg and colonial Williamsburg, the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, and the Northern Neck between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. Ancestrally, much of this area was Democratic. But with a large military population plus growing retirement communities, the 1st District is now reliably Republican in most elections.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R)
Elected: Dec. 2007, 1st full term.
Born: Feb. 3, 1959, Washington, D.C. .
Education: VA Tech., B.S., 1981, U. of NC, M.S., 1990, VA Commonwealth U., Ph.D., 2002.
Family: Married (Kathyrn); 2 children.
Elected office: Montross Town Cncl., 1986-1996, Montross Mayor, 1992-1996, Westmoreland Cnt. Bd. of Supervisors, 1996-2005, VA House of Del., 2005-07.
Professional Career: Field dir., VA Health Dept.
The congressman from the 1st District is Rob Wittman, a Republican who won a special election in December 2007. He replaced Republican Jo Ann Davis, who died of breast cancer two months earlier. Wittman was born in Washington, D.C., and became a marine scientist. He also has a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. Wittman served for many years as an environmental health specialist in the Northern Neck and Peninsula regions, including as field director for the state’s shellfish sanitation division. His first public office was a seat on the Montross Town Council, where he served for 10 years, including four as mayor. In 1995, he began a decade on the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors. In 2005, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
|Rob Wittman (R)||203,839||(57%)||($952,691)|
|Bill Day (D)||150,432||(42%)||($218,889)|
|Rob Wittman (R)||Unopposed|
|Rob Wittman (R)||42,772||(61%)|
|Philip Forgit (D)||26,282||(37%)|
|Lucky Narain (I)||1,253||(2%)|
Republicans chose their nominee to succeed Davis at a party convention five weeks after her death. Wittman’s chief opponent was Paul Jost, a businessman and anti-tax activist who lost to Davis 35%-30% in 2000. The low-key Wittman cited his experience in public office and “the basics of good government.” With help from several busloads of supporters, Jost led in the earlier balloting, which began with 11 candidates. The key moment came after five ballots, when Davis’s widower, Chuck Davis, threw his support to Wittman, who became the compromise candidate.
Democrats nominated Philip Forgit, a school teacher and Navy reservist who won a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. He described himself as a centrist and called for improved training to bring strategic change in Iraq. Wittman emphasized his conservative credentials, including his support for gun rights and opposition to abortion. He also touted the fact that House Minority Leader John Boehner had pledged to give him a seat on the Armed Services Committee. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid little attention to the contest in this heavily Republican district. Wittman won the low-turnout contest 61%-37%, carrying all 18 counties.
In the House, Wittman got a seat on Armed Services as promised, and also a seat on the Natural Resources Committee, another good fit for his district’s issues. He bucked his party as one of 33 House Republicans to support creation of an office of congressional ethics, which for the first time would give an outside panel the power to investigate the misdeeds of lawmakers. On local issues, he helped to secure a Commerce Department declaration in September 2008 that the Chesapeake had become a “commercial fishery failure,” which opened the door to economic aid to the bay’s struggling watermen. He was elected to a full term with a smaller share of 57%-42%, but with five times as many votes as the special election.