Nastiness Pervades Races in Virginia

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Virginia Beach, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates is blamed for giving convicted criminals "get-out-of-jail-free cards" while working for the state. In Danville, a Republican candidate is alleged to have been a leader in a national organization that wants to end Social Security.

And in Fairfax County, Republican Del. Timothy D. Hugo is accused of working for a lobbying firm that overcharged the government, represented abusers at Abu Ghraib prison and profited from the war in Iraq.

Many lawmakers from both parties agree that legislative races in Virginia have gotten far nastier this year than in previous years as candidates bombard potential voters with TV and radio ads and campaign literature in the final weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

"If someone wants to run against me on transportation or taxes, that's fine," said Hugo, who is running for reelection against Democrat Rex Simmons in the 40th District in western Fairfax. "In the past, we debated the issues. . . . These allegations cross a line of decency. I'm just appalled. Did I think it would stoop this low? No."

Many candidates who are in office or have run before say they are shocked at how personal and vicious the attacks have been this year, accusing their opponents of outright lying in many cases or, at the very least, distorting the truth.

The allegations flying back and forth in the campaign for the open House seat in Fairfax's 34th District have gotten so negative that Republican candidate Dave Hunt responded with a mailer about Democratic opponent Margaret G. Vanderhye that says, "We can't trust a word she says."

Hunt's wife, Amy, also penned a letter: "I knew my husband, Dave Hunt, might be attacked when he decided to run for delegate but I had no idea how vicious the smear campaign against him would be or how persistent his opponent and her supporters would be with twisting the truth and misrepresenting the views and character of my husband."

Vanderhye said it's "fair game" to show voters how she and her opponent differ, what he stands for and whether his positions have changed.

Many candidates and lawmakers attribute the extreme negative campaigning this year to an increased number of competitive races, the abundance of money raised by campaigns and, most importantly, the potential to change which party controls the General Assembly.

The Democrats could make significant gains in the Republican-led legislature next month when all 140 House and Senate seats are up for grabs. Democrats could take control of the Senate for the first time since 1999 and pick up a half-dozen or so seats in the House of Delegates.

"They are salivating over the opportunity to win back the majority," said state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), who is locked in a tight race for reelection against Democrat J. Chapman Petersen in the 34th District, which includes parts of Vienna and all of Fairfax City.

But Petersen is the one accusing Davis of crossing the line by airing an ad accusing him of voting to permit concealed handguns on school property as a gun fires in the background. He said the ad lacks "integrity and honesty and class."

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