A retired Green Beret and a traffic engineer will go head to head in Virginia's Republican congressional primary Tuesday for a shot at unseating two-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly and turning his Northern Virginia district red.
Both former Army Col. Chris Perkins, of Lorton, and engineering consultant Ken Vaughn, of Herndon, portray themselves as political outsiders concerned about the country's soaring debt who would offer a conservative alternative to Connolly in November. But they insist there are major differences between them and how they would address what they both described as a leadership void in Washington.
Vaughn would craft a budget by first projecting the revenues and then allowing Democrats and Republicans to allot money for shared priorities. Leftover dollars could be divided among all 435 members of the House for district projects.
"Everything is on the table. We then sit down as a family, as a Congress, and say, 'What are our priorities?' " Vaughn said.
Vaughn's deficit reduction plan includes a 35 percent cut in military spending and a one-third reduction in overall federal spending.
Perkins called Vaughn's proposal reckless, particularly for a congressional district packed with defense contractors and people who rely on the government for their livelihood.
"A problem that has taken decades to get at is not going to be solved in a single night," Perkins said. "It's really important that folks understand we need a limited government. But that's at the system level. You don't attack the public-sector people who are just trying to go to work and do their job."
Connolly declined to comment on his potential Republican opponents until after the primary.
Connolly won the 11th District -- which includes parts of Fairfax and Prince Williams counties -- by fewer than 1,000 votes in 2010, narrowly surviving a conservative wave that knocked dozens of Democratic lawmakers out of office. But state Democrats improved his outlook in 2012 by adding the solidly blue communities of Reston and Herndon to his district in last year's remapping process.
Regardless of whom he'll face this fall, Connolly also goes into the race with a heavy fundraising advantage. He already has $1 million on hand for a general election fight.
Perkins raised $200,000 and spent all but $60,000 in the primary. Vaughn reported earnings of $140,000 through May 23, but he appears to have deep pockets: He lent his campaign $80,000 and promised to donate half his salary to charity until Congress cuts its own pay.