There were cloggers and a Latin combo, a banjo playing congressman and a cloud of helium balloons. But for a candidate who once brought an elephant to a Republican convention, and has politicked beside a supporter dressed in a wolf costume, the campaign kickoff for Frank Wolf last week seemed rather tame.
"There won't be any elephant this year," said the 41-year-old Wolf, an Arlington attorney running for the congressional seat representing Northern Virginia's 10th District.
Wolf doesn't need gimmicks anymore. Since his first campaign in 1975, Wolf has knocked on more doors than Avon. No other candidate in Northern Virginia has worked the shopping centers and Metro stations, church services and even trash dumps like Wolf. During his 1978 campaign, in which he lost to Democratic incumbent Joseph L. Fisher by a surprisingly small margin, Wolf figures he shook almost 100,000 hands.
Because of that campaign fervor and his support of local Republican candidates, Wolf, who has never held elective office, is considered the front runner in a GOP primary against Fairfax Del. Martin H. Perper, serving his second term in the Virginia House of Delegates, and Harold Miller, mayor of Falls Church since 1974.
"Frank has worked like a dog for the party and most people think it is his turn," says Judy Shreve, 10th District Republican chairman. "He has quite a head start in organization."
"Frank has had nothing to do but work on this for the last two years. He's going to have a big head start on me," admits Perper, who will try to persuade Republican voters that his legislative experience would give him a head start on Wolf. "I've been through the mill. For him to go into Congress, not having held an elected position, it's going to take a year or two years to get the hang of what the legislative process is all about."
Miller is also betting that his leadership experience in Falls Church will impress area voters as much as Wolf's firm handshake.
"I consider myself a viable candidate. I wouldn't have gotten into this race if I didn't think I could be a winner," says the 50-year-old wholesale lumber broker.
One person who will be watching the primary with more than a casual interest is Fisher. In 1978, he was surprised by Wolf getting 47 percent of the vote. He was also put off by Wolf's aggressive campaigning.
"He's incessant," said Fisher two years ago. "I guess he's kind of yipping away at my heels all the time."
Emilie Miller, former chairman of the Fairfax Democratic party, maintains that "whoevere the Republicans put up, Joe will beat." But she admits she would love to see them put up anybody but Wolf.
"What worries us about Frank Wolf is, the last time he ran a very nasty name-calling campaign. Joe Fisher is not used to running that kind of campaign," she said.
Wolf denies he did anything more than debate the issues.
"There wasn't anything negative about it," insists Wolf, who used to refer to Fisher, then 64, as "grandfather" and complained that it was hard to engage in shirtsleeve debate with him.
"You can only be so hard on him," said Wolf two years ago. "We are taught to defer to old people."
Fisher, who generally votes liberal and in support of President Carter, has been a target of the Republican National Committee since he upset Joel Broyhill in 1974. Two years ago, Wolf benefited from that GOP effort in the form of contributions. He spent more than $220,000 in the 1978 campaign, almost twice as much as Fisher.
Wolf, who worked on Capitol Hill for two and a half years as a legislative assistant to a Republican congressman and later lobbied for a baby food manufacturer and a farm implements dealer, claims that the official spending figures are distorted.
"He has more perks and money than I'll ever have," says Wolf, estimating that Fisher's incumbency is worth about $1.2 million in free political advertising. "Every time you get a newsletter, every time you get a notice about his mobile camper (for constituent concerns) he's milking it to the hilt."