GOP Incumbent Faces Familiar Tactics From Foe

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Two years ago, Democrat Bruce Roemmelt lost to District 13 incumbent Robert G. Marshall, and in this year's rematch, he's trying to unseat the eight-term delegate using a similar line of attack.

As in 2005, Roemmelt's strategy is to depict Marshall (R) -- the region's most outspoken social conservative -- as an ineffective legislator who is too focused on social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion to devote sufficient attention to improving the region's roads.

"Bob has the wrong priorities," said Roemmelt, 61, a retired firefighter. "His legislation is not about how we can solve the transportation problem."

But the Virginia House's District 13, encompassing western Prince William County and part of southern Loudoun County, has long been one of the region's conservative strongholds. Despite raising less money, Marshall defeated Roemmelt by a 10-point margin last time, and the incumbent has a 4-to-1 cash advantage in this race.

"The problem for Bruce Roemmelt is that I'm too effective," said Marshall, 63, a medical research consultant. "I fight hard for my district."

Over the years, Marshall has burnished his reputation as a tough -- opponents say combative -- legislator who works relentlessly to advance his conservative social agenda and isn't afraid to fly alone. Most recently, he led an effort to sue the Commonwealth to block the implementation of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's transportation bill, the result of a bipartisan compromise.

An anti-tax stalwart, Marshall says that by granting tax-raising powers to the Northern Virginia Regional Transportation Board, whose members are appointed, the transportation bill was unconstitutional. He has also vigorously opposed the abusive-driver fees.

Roemmelt points to these positions as further evidence that Marshall is a roadblock to transportation improvements. "The job is to go down [to Richmond] and solve problems," he said. "Bob wants to be part of the Supreme Court."

Roemmelt, who said he supports the transportation bill, would propose a 1.5 cent increase in the gas tax to help raise money for new transit projects such as carpool parking lots along Interstate 66, better VRE service and more rapid-transit commuter buses. Marshall dismissed this approach, insisting that trimming government waste is the best way to alleviate gridlock.

"Roemmelt's idea is to continue to waste . . . and raise more taxes," said Marshall, who takes credit for several road-widening projects in his district in recent years.

Although traffic and growth remain central themes in the race, Marshall noted that illegal immigration had emerged as a major concern to voters in District 13. This year, Marshall sponsored a bill to establish the bipartisan, 20-member Virginia Commission on Immigration to advise Kaine and the General Assembly on the issue.

But Marshall's plan to head the commission was blocked when Kaine and moderate Senate GOP leaders encouraged another Republican, Sen. John C. Watkins (Chesterfield), to challenge Marshall for leadership of the panel. Watkins defeated him in a 16 to 3 vote -- another example, Roemmelt said, of Marshall's inability to solve problems across party lines.

"The Senate Republicans have been dissing me for years," Marshall said. "They don't like me because I put them on the spot."

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