They've staked out street corners in downtown Washington, gathering petitions listing favored Virginia politicians. They've flooded Northern Virginia political rallies with buttons, brochures and banners. They've knocked on hundreds of doors and dialed thousands of telephone numbers in the Virginia suburbs.
For proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment who have tried and failed for nine years to get the Virginia General Assembly to ratify the measure, next year is their final chance. Whether they succeed or fail may be decided in large part in next week's elections for the 100 seats in House of Delegates.
Despite all the activity -- and publicity -- that pro-ERA forces have generated in the Washington suburbs, most legislators say that chances are slim that Virginia will be one of the three states needed to ratify the ERA proposal before it expires on June 30.
"It would be a surprise if ERA passed next year," said State Sen. Clive L. DuVal of McLean, a longtime Senate floor leader for the ERA. "But there is a good possibility," he adds.
That possibility apparently depends largely on the outcome of the Nov. 3 elections and the proponents' hope that the legislature's leadership will be forced to revamp the makeup of a key house committee after the elections. The House Privileges and Election Committee has yet to approve the amendment for floor action.
Anti-ERA leaders note that the proponents already have lost ground in the Washington suburbs this year. Two Northern Virginia incumbents who supported ERA -- Dels. Elise B. Heinz, an Arlington Democrat, and Martin H. Perper, a Fairfax Republican -- were defeated in September primaries. No anti-ERA incumbents lost in those same primaries.
Organizations on both sides of the ERA say they have mustered more money, more political troops and tougher strategies for next week's elections than in past campaigns.
"We're very concerned," said Kathy Teague of Springfield, chairman of Virginia Stop-ERA. "We've had to solicit and raise more money than in the past."
The ERA movement traditionally has made its greatest gains in Virginia's urban centers, particularly the Washington suburbs. This fall some of the most bitter ERA clashes in the state are being fought in Fairfax County House districts where ERA has been one of the few issues that has separated candidates.
Overall, pro-ERA candidates this fall outnumber anti-ERA candidates in Northern Virginia by 27 to nine. Still, ERA activitists worry that their cause may suffer despite the numbers.
"If the anti-ERA forces concentrate their votes on one or two candidates, they could win," said Patricia Winton of Alexandria, co-coordinator of the Virginia National Organization of Women.
That's precisely the course that the anti-ERA forces have taken. They consider Fairfax a good place to chip away at ERA support and have placed most of their resources in northeastern Fairfax's 49th House District behind the GOP's Gwendalyn F. Cody, the only anti-ERA candidate in the race.
In some House districts, winners could be determined by a few hundred votes, so "small groups that work hard can have a great impact," said Del. John H. Rust Jr., a Fairfax Republican who has switched his stand on the amendment. Rust opposed the ERA last election, but has gone on record as favoring ERA ratification in this campaign.
Elsewhere in the state, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist based in Lynchburg, has rallied strong opposition to the ERA, especially in the state's rural Southside. The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, with 71,000 members scattered throughout rural Virginia, also has taken a strong anti-ERA stand.
"The ERA continues to have an uphill fight in Virginia, said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a Fairfax Republican who supports ratification. "The Senate, which rejected ERA in 1980 by a vote of 20 to 19 , is still in place, and some changes in membership, combined with vote-switching, would be required for ERA to be successful in the House, he said.