Before the greetings, before the handshakes, before the campaign pitches -- there are the dead-bolt locks, the chain latches and the growling dogs.
And for the four Republican candidates seeking House of Delegates seats from Fairfax County's 52nd District, those locks, latches and growling dogs are symptoms of what the candidates see as one of the major issues in the campaign.
Crime. Specifically, the increasing suburban crime rate, which the four Republicans say is the greatest single concern of the residents in the rapidly growing southeastern corner of the county.
Warren E. Barry, an incumbent Fairfax County delegate, and political novices Nelson Jackson, Frank Medico and Benton Partin are seeking the Republican nomination in the primary election Tuesday. The top three vote-getters will advance to the general election Nov. 3.
"One woman I talked to had eight dead-bolt locks on her doors," said Medico, who claims he has knocked on about 2,500 doors during his campaign. "And she had two big German shepherd dogs. She said she felt like a prisoner in her own house."
At virtually every home he has visited, Medico adds, there were "at least two or three locks and a big dog."
And each candidate has a different solution to the problem.
Medico: "Wipe out the drug problem. Most crime in Fairfax County is drinking- or drug-related. Outlawing drug paraphernalia was a good start."
Barry: "People have lost faith in the judicial system. We should change the way judges are selected so it is not by political appointment -- that's what it is now."
Partin: "Criminals should be required to pay restitution to victims of property crimes."
Jackson: "We need uniform sentencing laws. Give more sympathy to the victim rather than the criminal."
Other than crime, however, candidates say few issues have elicited any response from voters in this summer's primary campaign. That lack of interest is a major concern to the candidates.
"The general public has little or no interest in this election," says Barry. "The people here generally don't open their eyes and get interested in politics until they see fall coming."
All four candidates admit that uncertainty over redistricting has hindered their campaign efforts.
"You knock on people's doors and they say, 'Oh, no. Is it election time again?' " grumbles Jackson.
"This is going to be a very dangerous primary," warns Barry, who is seeking his seventh term as a delegate. "We'll have a very small turnout. The election could be controlled by a few special-interest groups."
Barry, 48, is a small businessman in the Springfield area who has spent 12 years in the House of Delegates. The other three candidates are government or military retirees making their first bid for public office.
The 50-year-old Jackson, a retired naval officer, now is an executive with the American Defense Preparedness Association, a private group. Partin, 55, a retired Air Force general who worked as a consulting engineer in the military, says he is writing two books. Medico, 57, is a retired accountant who served as an assistant director with the U.S. General Accounting Office.
Despite the apparent lack of voter interest, all four GOP candidates have been working hard to make residents aware of their stands on a variety of issues, ranging from education to the Equal Rights Amendment.
On ERA, three candidates -- Jackson, Medico and Partin -- oppose ratification of the amendment. The fourth, Barry, says he favors the ERA personally but would vote against it in the General Assembly because most of his constituents are against it.
Education issues are given high priority by all of the candidates.
Barry has focused on state funding formulas, which he contends should be revised: "Northern Virginia is penalized too much for their high standards. More money is sent downstate than Northern Virginia receives in return."
Jackson advocates increased pay for teachers. He adds, "We've got to look at minimum standards across the state and we've got to keep upgrading what we've got here in Fairfax."
Medico stressed a "return to the basics -- we've got to get back to the three Rs again and put tighter controls on discipline problems."
Partin agrees: "The open classroom idea has been disastrous. . . . The education system is bad. In Fairfax you've got some extremely good schools and some very poor schools."
Meanwhile, all four Republicans say they support President Reagan's crusade to reduce government spending and are cautious about Virginia picking up the tab on the programs cut by the federal government.
Jackson warns, however, "I would reject the knee-jerk approach that programs need to be cut just because we are losing the funds for them."
Medico has stressed yet another tax issue: "Just as Reagan is trying to put a cap on income tax bracket creep, Virginia needs to put a cap on real estate assessment creep -- that is more serious."
According to Medico, property tax values are increasing faster than many owners can afford to pay the taxes on the land.
"We need to scrub the budget," says Partin, who claims the General Assembly is too quick to take state departments at their word when budget requests are made. "The Assembly has not had a very good information base to operate on," notes Partin.
"Even though Virginia has been on an austerity progam for the past three years, there is still room for reduction in appropriations," says Barry. He notes that Reagan's budget cuts will put an extra burden on the state's coffers, but adds, "Most of the impact created by reduced federal funding can be absorbed by curtailing nonessential services." Despite their efforts to drum up interest in the election, all four candidates come back again and again to the complaint that voters simply aren't very enthusiastic about this year's House races.