Virginia State Del. David Speck, an Alexandria Republican, spoke without a microphone at a recent candidate's night. He didn't need one -- only about 25 people showed up.
"First of all, to the five or so of you who are not related to us or actively working for us, thank you for coming," Speck said. "How can we generate more interest among your neighbors and friends?"
He's not the only one asking. With election day less than two weeks away, the race for Alexandria's two seats in the Virginia House of Delegates is generating little attention.
"It is disappointing," says Democratic incumbent Bernard Cohen.
City registrar Stanford Hurst says this race the quietest in memory, and he is predicting the Nov. 3 turnout will be lower than usual for a year in which local state elections coincide with the governor's race. Less than half the usual number of new voter registrations came in this year, he says.
"People just aren't excited about this election," Hurst says. "It's a comme ci, comme ca type of thing for most of the voters. The candidates just haven't conducted an exciting campaign."
A reason for the apathy may be this year's main issue -- the effect of the Reagan budget cuts on Alexandria and all of Northern Virginia. That is not exactly an emotional issue right now.
But Northern Virginia politicians say the area always sends more tax dollars downstate than it receives in services. With budget cuts approaching, those feelings have blossomed into fears, even though no one knows exactly what their impact will be. Predictably, Republicans are downplaying the effect of the cuts and Democrats are playing them up.
"The losses in federal funds can be easily compensated for with the state surplus of unanticipated revenues," says Republican incumbent Speck. "I don't think we ought to hang our hats on that, but it gives us breathing room."
"I don't think people should underestimate the effect of the cuts," says Democratic challenger Marian Van Landingham.
"Make no mistake," says Democratic incumbent Cohen, "there is no way we can manage to maintain the same level of services without replacing lost revenues."
All four candidates have been explaining how they will improve the fiscal health of Northern Virginia. Speck has been emphasizing the importance of coalition-building in Richmond; Cohen his influence and membership on key committee assignments; challenger Van Landingham her energy and civic savvy; and Republican canndidate Betty McCann her experience handling local issues as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill.
For incumbents, the prospect of a low voter turnout is not necessarily bad news, because few voters usually translates into regular voters who favor those already in office.
Low turnout or not, by Nov. 3 the four candidates will have spent an average of $10,000 each on their campaigns, the vast majority of it raised through small donations of $10 to $25.
Cohen and Van Landingham have stressed the advantages of being Democrats in a Democratic-controlled statehouse. Cohen, 47, an Alexandria trial lawyer who prefers the label "traditionalist" rather than liberal or conservative, has suggested that federal budget cuts be offset by increases in state income taxes.
Virginia currently taxes all income over $12,000 at the same rate -- 5 3/4 percent. "That's whether its $12,000 or $12 million," says Cohen. "You'd be amazed at the money we could raise by adjusting the tax brackets only a little."
He and fellow Democrat Van Landingham, 44, have cautioned that the budget cuts still have not been felt. "Hard choices will have to be made," he says. His priorities: the poor, the elderly and housing.
Incumbent Speck, 36, an educator by training and a builder by occupation, is emphasizing "seniority and continuity" in his campaign. McCann, 52, an aide to former Republican Rep. Joel T. Broyhill for 18 years and now an aide to a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has emphasized repeal of the food tax and tax relief for middle-income Virginians. "Virginia politics," her campaign literature states, "needs a woman's point of view."
Speck and McCann also note that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charles S. Robb has said that Northern Virginians shouldn't expect him to favor the area just because he lives in McLean. Van Landingham, a political scientist and businesswoman known as a founder of the Torpedo Factory, has also pledged to fight to get Northern Virginia a greater share of state tax revenues.
"I have made a career of Alexandria," she says. "And that's going to matter in Richmond. I expect to work with people downstate. We'll have to reorder our priorities, and possibly raise some taxes. Its not going to be easy for Northern Virginia.