Northern Virginia Rep. Stanford E. Parris called his reelection campaign "a referendum on Herb Harris" yesterday and accused his Democratic opponent of trying to "repackage himself" into a new, less liberal candidate.
Parris, a Republican, took the offensive before a generally friendly audience of 200 businessmen and women at an Alexandria Chamber of Commerce forum. He listened as Herbert E. Harris II, the former representative trying to recapture his seat, attacked high budget deficits and unemployment and praised small businessmen, and then he ridiculed Harris's positions.
"For the first time in his political life, he has started to talk about fiscal responsibility and middle-class values," Parris said. "He hasn't changed, he's just trying to present a new image, to sell himself differently."
"Herb returning to Congress to save small business is like sending Dracula to the blood bank," Parris said.
Harris said after the forum that Parris is waging a negative campaign aimed at distracting voters from the Reagan-Parris economic record. "It seemed to me fairly peculiar that in a 15-minute presentation Stan did not mention one bill he has sponsored," Harris said.
Citizens Party candidate Austin Morrill also spoke at the forum, accusing both Parris and Harris of ignoring the issues. "They just point at each other," Morrill said. "There are some fundamental problems going on in our country today."
Harris did not focus on Parris in his speech, but repeated his campaign theme of restoring economic security to federal workers, retirees and middle-class homeowners. He said small businesses in the 8th District--Alexandria and portions of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties--are suffering because federal workers are not sure enough of their jobs to spend money.
"A lot of people in this room would say, 'Just hold tight, leave things as they are. Prosperity is just around the corner,' " Harris said. "I don't think that that's the way business groups have prospered in this country . . . . We have to move ahead and not wallow around in this recession."
Parris agreed the nation is in a recession, but blamed it on Harris and other Democrats who have long controlled the House. He said Reagan has begun to reverse the decline. "Economic recovery has begun, and it will continue if we stay on course," said Parris, echoing the Republican national campaign theme.
Still, Parris tried to shift the debate away from Reagan and his economic policies. "Ronald Reagan is not on the ballot. I am," Parris said. "And I'm my own man. This election, however, is a referendum. It's a referendum on Herb Harris, on Herb's policies of tax and tax and spend and spend.
"That's why Herb has suddenly become the savior of the middle class, the champion of the small businessman," Parris added.
Harris said he sponsored several measures to help small businesses during his six years in Congress. "I say, loose the small business initiative in this country," he said.