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Republicans will try again this fall to unseat U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly and put the closely contested 11th District back in their column.

However, first voters in the district must decide who will challenge Connolly in the general election — Chris Perkins, a retired Army colonel and self-employed defense consultant, or Ken Vaughn, a traffic engineer. Both are running for elected office for the first time.

On paper, Perkins appears to have the edge in the primary, having raised about $100,000 more than and picking up the endorsement of former Rep. Tom Davis, the last Republican to represent the district.

Vaughn, however, said he thinks his campaign has been picking up momentum in the final days before Tuesday’s primary, both in terms of fundraising and other support.

“We seem to have momentum on our side,” he said.

The federal budget and national debt is the top issue for both candidates, and it also is what they use to differentiate themselves.

“We’re both fiscal conservatives,” Perkins said. “It’s how you do it.”

Vaughn and Perkins say their respective plans are more “serious” and detailed than that of their opponent.

Perkins wants to focus on entitlement reform, as a primary method for cutting federal spending. For example, he said he would like to see Medicaid funding be shifted to a block grant to states and remove federal regulations of how states administer their programs.

He is not in favor of significant cuts to defense spending, but thinks “everything should be on the table” in discussing the federal budget — including the 66 percent of the budget that is considered “mandatory” spending.

Vaughn’s budgeting approach would be to set an overall fiscal goal and then look year-by-year at what milestones need to be achieved to reach the long-term goal. Its a “very practical, engineering-style approach.”

“Then, we know exactly how much we can spend,” he said. Anything short of a major national security issue would need to fit within those constraints, he said.

In terms of stimulating economic growth, both favor reforming the tax code and reducing government regulations.

Tuesday’s primary is open to any voter registered in the 11th District, regardless of party affiliation.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com