By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006
The nation watched in suspense as the Virginia Senate race ran neck-and-neck for hours. The contest between Sen. George Allen (R) and Democrat James Webb was crucial in determining the new balance of power on Capitol Hill.
As the drama unfolded Tuesday night, Glenda Gail Parker was alone in a modest hotel room in Bristol, Va., a small city on the Tennessee border. After a day of shaking hands, the Independent Green Party candidate settled into her pajamas and watched her name scroll across the bottom of the TV screen. "I was just chillin' out," she said.
Gail "for Rail" Parker, 59, a retired budget analyst who campaigned on a plan to build a high-speed rail network, won more than 26,000 of about 2.37 million votes cast in the Old Dominion. That amounted to little more than 1 percent of the total vote. But it was nonetheless a significant portion: Only about 7,000 votes separated Webb from Allen.
"Here's the question," said Mark J. Rozell, a George Mason University public policy professor. "Who would those . . . voters have gone to if she had not been on the ballot?"
There is no way to know for certain how much Parker's candidacy influenced the outcome. Rozell said some Parker voters probably mistakenly believed she was a candidate with the left-leaning Green Party. Without Parker's name on the ballot, Rozell said, such voters might have stayed home or voted for Webb.
Robert D. Holsworth, a Virginia Commonwealth University political scientist, said some of Parker's support probably came from voters who were unhappy with the major party candidates.
"She provided a vehicle for someone who wanted to say, 'A pox on both your houses,' " Holsworth said. "Some people may have just known she was an alternative. I think there were more people thinking that than people voting for her because she liked light rail."
The Independent Greens of Virginia are not affiliated with the Green Party of the United States, national Green spokesman Scott McLarty said.
Independent Green state chairman Carey Campbell of Springfield said that his party is separate from the national Greens and that it stands for more candidates, less apathy and fiscal conservatism, among other things. "People that voted for us may have not voted at all had we not been there," Campbell said.
The small Virginia party backed a slate of congressional candidates this year, according to its Web site, with Parker at the top of its ticket. The state elections Web site identified Independent Green candidates in three of Virginia's 11 U.S. House races. Others were listed as independents.
Parker, who lives in Alexandria, worked for the Department of Defense for 34 years, most recently as a budget analyst. For months, she campaigned across Virginia in a little-noticed "Main Street rail tour."
The spotlight fell on her only when political pundits debated her role in the tight race. Mindful of the stakes, she broached the possibility of endorsing Allen or Webb late in the campaign but held back. However, she appeared Monday at a Webb rally in Roanoke and gave some words of encouragement to the Democrat's followers.
Yesterday, she used her moment onstage to push for a rail system that would serve the nation and the Washington region.
"We need to build high-speed rail to Tysons Corner," she said. "We need rail around the Beltway. We need to extend the Metro rail out to Winchester."
Parker said more trains would mean less dependence on foreign oil, fewer traffic accidents and a better quality of life for commuters.
"We feel we had a tremendous amount of success in elevating the rail issue," Parker said. "We're advocates for more candidates and less apathy. We're looking forward to the next year. We're still building. We still need rail."