The Washington suburbs may be the only place in the nation where politicians admit, indeed boast, that they love government employes.

When it comes time to vote on federal pay raises, most legislators pray for a voice (rather than a recorded) vote so their constitutents won't know if they voted yes. Not here.

Take the confusing race between Harris and Parris in Northern Virginia, which teems with civil servants.

Both men, and they are fine men, are running on platforms that would lose them the election for assistant dog catcher or hangman most places. But this is Washington.

What confuses outside political observers, in addition to the name similarity, is the fact that the Parris vs. Harris race leans heavily on which one can say the most good things about federal workers.

In the last election, Republican Stan Parris took the seat formerly held by Democrat Herb Harris. Parris wants to keep it. Harris wants it back.

Their latest tiff involves a Parris pledge not to support any budget proposal that calls for a freeze on federal pay, or a delay or cap on cost-of-living raises for retirees.

Harris says that Parris broke that pledge when he voted for a budget substitute introduced by Rep. John Rousselot (R-Calif.). It would have frozen all federal benefits at present levels. That would mean no federal pay raise, and no increase, next March, for retirees.

Harris says the vote demonstrates that Parris speaks with a forked tongue. Parris says it demonstrates that Harris has forgotten how things work in Congress.

The Parris people say that their man voted for the Rousselot proposal -- it comes up every spring -- to show he favors a balanced budget.

"It never had a prayer," a Parris aide said. "It is like voting for National Blueberry Appreciation Week." Parris, he pointed out, worked for and voted for budget amendments that would give U.S. workers a 5 percent October raise, as well as full cost-of-living increases next year for retirees, instead of the GOP budget that would have frozen pay and delayed COL raises.

Harris is trying to picture Parris as a desperate incumbent who says he favors feds and then votes against them.

Parris is trying to picture Harris as a desperate challenger who twists the facts.

Unlike beat-the-bureaucrat congressional races in other parts of the country, each candidate is trying to outdo the other as a supporter of federal workers, an advocate of bigger U.S. pensions and higher salaries for civil servants.

Politicians from other areas are not surprised that Harris and Parris try to make each other look bad: that they understand.

What confuses the pols is that what is bad here is good where they come from, making it hard to figure local politics.