In Virginia, Frank Wolf challenger Jeff Barnett focuses on the future

By Ben Pershing
Sunday, September 19, 2010

In 1996, Air Force Col. Jeffery R. Barnett published a book predicting how wars would be prosecuted in 2010.

Now, Barnett is engaged in an uphill battle far different from the ones he imagined: He is running to unseat Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) in the 10th Congressional District.

Barnett retired from the military 11 years ago but hasn't stopped talking and thinking about what's next. He worked for Toffler Associates -- a business consulting firm founded by futurist Alvin Toffler -- until November, and as a full-time Democratic candidate, he still spends his days trying to see around corners in a way that he says his opponent does not.

"He has no idea about the future," Barnett said of Wolf, who has been in Congress since 1981. "In essence, he's the past. I'm the present and the future."

Wolf's campaign scoffs at Barnett's message, suggesting that the Democrat has little support and few specific proposals behind his broad rhetoric. But Wolf isn't ignoring his opponent.

"We're taking it very seriously. In this environment you're crazy not to," said Wolf campaign spokesman Daniel Scandling.

Barnett, 60, is only 11 years younger than Wolf, but his challenge is designed to project energy and vitality.

"I'm Jeff Barnett and I'm running for Congress. Actually, I'm walking," Barnett said repeatedly one evening last week as he knocked on doors and visited shops in Herndon.

Barnett's stop in Herndon came on the penultimate day of an elaborate campaign exercise -- an 80-mile walk across the 10th District, which began Sept. 3 in Gore, near the West Virginia border, and ended Wednesday in McLean.

Short of cash and off the radar screens of both parties' national campaign operations, Barnett used the walk to attract media attention and to make a point. He said that if elected, he'll make the same walk every two years, and when he can't manage the walk anymore, he'll retire.

Barnett might see a victory in his future, but the recent past doesn't bode well.

The 10th District can support a Democrat: President Obama won it by seven percentage points in his 2008 campaign. The district backed Democrats Timothy M. Kaine for governor in 2005, James Webb for Senate in 2006 and Mark Warner for Senate in 2008.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company