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In recent years, Virginia’s 11th District has been viewed as a swing district.

Democrat Gerry Connolly won the seat in 2008, after Republican Tom Davis held the seat for more than a decade. Connolly narrowly won re-election in 2010, winning by fewer than 1,000 votes.

This year will be the first test of how this year’s boundary changes have affected the district. The 11th lost portions of Prince William County and southeastern Fairfax County while gaining the Reston area and more of Vienna, changes that are generally believed to favor the Democrat.

This year, Connolly is facing a challenge from Republican Chris Perkins and a sprawling slate of third party and independent candidates: Peter Marchetti, Independent Green; Joe Galdo Jr., Green; Chris DeCarlo, independent; and Mark Gibson, independent.

Perkins is a retired Army colonel and Green Beret who now works as a national security consultant. As part of his military career, he served a military liaison to Congress and was the director of legislative affairs for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

While new to politics, “I am not a neophyte in the mechanics of Congress,” he said.

Perkins believes his professional background would allow him to help bridge the partisan divide in Congress. “I spent my career bringing opposing factions to the table,” he said.

For his part, Connolly says his focus during his first two terms is to get things done, citing multiple instances where he has not toed the party line. “I am not an ideologue,” he said.

While they have different viewpoints, both men indicate a willingness to consider a range of approaches to reducing the national deficit and reforming the tax code.

Perkins supports a balanced budget amendment, targeted spending cuts and transferring more responsibilities to the states as avenues of reducing the federal deficit. The big savings, he notes, will come from reforming entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

For Medicare, Perkins said there will need to be some sort of major change, like means testing or a higher eligibility age, to keep the program sustainable. For Medicaid, he supports providing a block grant to states and allowing states to run the program as they see fit.

Perkins does not favor letting the 2003 tax cuts expire, but is instead interested in pursuing a flatter tax with fewer deductions.

Unlike many Republicans, however, Perkins said he would not sign Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes. “I can’t tie my hands when I don’t know what the circumstances will be,” he said.

Connolly believes that the federal deficit cannot be reduced if the country does not have more revenues coming in. Cutting government at any cost “is a destructive path,” he said. “It will hurt America.”

While he did support temporarily extending the 2003 tax cuts when the economy was in crisis, Connolly now favors some form of tax revenue increase, although he is not married to one particular idea.

“You can’t do it just with spending cuts,” he said. “Not all spending is the same; investments have returns.”

Connolly and Perkins have even sharper differences on the subject of the Affordable Care Act. Connolly voted for the legislation and still believes it was the right thing to do. Perkins supports Republican efforts to repeal the law.

“We need to put more choice and competition there that isn’t there under Obamacare,” Perkins said.

Connolly said that rising health care costs were becoming unsustainable for businesses and government alike. “I believe the Affordable Care Act provides us a framework to get our arms around it,” he said.

It remains to be seen what adjustments need to be made to the law to accomplish the goals of lowering costs and making health care accessible to all Americans, Connolly said, but he sees promise in the portions of the legislation that have gone into effect so far.

“There is a little bit of evidence that what we said was going to happen is going to happen,” Connolly said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com