For the first time in several years, Arlington voters will have only one Republican name on the general election ballot for the three House of Delegates seats in the county.
Although the senior member of the Arlington delegation, Democrat Mary A. Marshall, is being challenged by Republican David M. Mason, the other two Democratic delegates from Arlington -- James F. Almand and Warren G. Stambaugh -- have no opposition in the general election Nov. 2. All four are seeking one-year terms from new single-member districts set up in a plan approved this year by the General Assembly.
Almand and Stambaugh say they are pleasantly surprised by the lack of opposition, but Republican leaders in Arlington say the situation is not what they had hoped for.
"We had a lot of people who would have liked to run and said, 'I wish I could,' " said county Republican Chairman Jade West. "But none said, 'Yes, I will.'
"It's difficult to find a Republican to expend the time and energy and to take time off professionally to run and serve. And when the races are in districts that are very heavily Democratic in their voting history, the differences become paramount."
West attributes the GOP failure to field a full slate of House candidates to a decision to concentrate on crucial local and federal races and to House redistricting.
The GOP, she said, is funneling much of its funds and efforts toward three campaigns: those of U.S. Senate candidate Paul S. Trible, incumbent U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and incumbent Arlington County Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler, who is a GOP-backed independent.
West said the new redistricting plan set up Democratic strongholds that make it difficult to challenge Almand and Stambaugh.
Under the new plan, Arlington is divided into three single-member districts. Almand is seeking election from the 47th District, which runs a jagged north-south route along the western edge of Arlington and includes two Fairfax County precincts, Willston and Glen Forest. Stambaugh is seeking election from the 49th District, which includes south-central Arlington south of Rte. 50. The third Arlington District, the 48th, with the Marshall-Mason race, covers much of northeastern Arlington north of Rte. 50.
West describes Stambaugh's district as "about 75 percent Democratic, the most solidly Democratic precincts in the county," while Almand's "may be more marginal, but it includes many precincts that are not traditionally Republican."
"By accident or good planning, the Democrats managed to put their weakest candidate, Warren Stambaugh, in their strongest district and their strongest, Mary Marshall, in their weakest district, vote-wise," West said.
In the House election last fall, Marshall led the ticket with 27,168 votes, followed by Almand with 25,684 and Stambaugh at 25,421. The nearest GOP challenger was 8,000 votes behind Stambaugh.
The heavily Democratic composition of their new districts is not lost on Almand or Stambaugh, although neither believes the redistricting plan is the major reason the GOP has been unable to find challengers for either of their seats.
In the last election, Almand noted, he carried all the precincts in his new district.
"I don't think how the districts were drawn up makes too much of a difference," said Almand, 33, who was first elected to the House in 1978, "because Arlington is basically a very Democratic county . . . ."
Stambaugh, 38, who was first elected to the legislature in 1974, describes his new district as a fairly solid Democratic area with "some Republican strongholds."
"But overall the precincts that comprise my district have been Democratic," he said. "And we did so well in the last election, I think it probably discouraged some people."
With no opposition, neither candidate is soliciting funds, and much of the campaign has been spent on three proposed constitutional amendments and a local question proposing a county housing authority. All four will appear on the November ballot.
The housing proposal, sponsored by Almand, also has strong support from Stambaugh. Both men say the authority's power to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds would be a valuable tool for preserving affordable rental housing.
Almand and Stambaugh oppose a constitutional proposal that would allow the General Assembly to limit the types and number of bills introduced in the Assembly's 45-day session, held in odd years. Both contend the proposal would short-circuit the representative process.
"In essence, 51 delegates could decide they don't want to do anything on housing this year or repeal the sales tax on food this year or anything my constituents might want. It's crazy," Stambaugh said.
On a consitutional proposal that would allow the legislature to restore civil rights to some nonviolent felons, Almand and Stambaugh disgree. Almand says he supports the principle behind the proposal, but notes that specific details have not been drafted about who would be eligible and under what conditions. Stambaugh says he has reservations about giving the legislature powers now strictly reserved for the governor.
Both are just beginning to prepare their own legislative agendas for the next session, which they expect will focus primarily on fiscal problems. Stambaugh says he wants a bill reforming the current procedures on involuntary commitments to state mental institutions. Almand said he hopes to introduce a bill that would allow part-time teachers to qualify for the state's retirement system.