In a game where the winner is usually the one whose name is most widely known, political novice John E. Bonfadini has played every card in the deck, from reminding everyone that it's he who has an extravagantly animated Christmas display outside his home each year, to touching base with the parents of the kids he's coached in Little League and his students at George Mason University.
Bonfadini, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Harry J. Parrish, a political institution in his home town of Manassas, for the House of Delegates seat in the 50th District, which includes Manassas and stretches west across Prince William County to the Fauquier County line.
While Bonfadini, 43, is hustling for support in a classic door-to-door campaign, Parrish, 60, says he is running on his "record of 31 years that's out there for everyone to see." Parrish won the House of Delegates seat last fall, capping a 30-year political career that included 18 years as mayor of Manassas and 12 years as Manassas council member.
An almost identical campaign is shaping up in the neighboring 51st District, where Democratic incumbent David G. Brickley, 38, is facing newcomer F. Clancy McQuigg, a 39-year-old Republican. With few issues separating the candidates, the contest appears to hinge a great deal on name recognition and past political records.
Incumbents in both races say the new single-member districts created this year have shortened the campaign trail so far. In past years, Brickley and Parrish had found themselves lumped in together with as many as four others in races where three seats were at stake. Brickley has won every House election since 1975, and traditionally has garnered the highest vote tally of any candidate in his district. Last year Parrish, who had lost the year before, won a seat when he ran second to Brickley in the six-candidate race.
The new single-member House districts have benefited both incumbents by putting them in separate districts running against political newcomers. Under the new plan, Parrish found himself on comfortable turf with the professional/blue-collar mix of voters in the 50th District: Manassas, Manassas Park and central Prince William County. Brickley came away with the 51st District, a long swath along the I-95 commuter corridor that includes his home base of Woodbridge and Dale City, Lake Ridge, Occoquan and Woodvine.
Though political newcomers don't have as much ground to cover in the new districts, they have a tougher battle in their efforts to win the seat from established incumbents.
Incumbent Parrish, for example, said he is campaigning harder against a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of the legislature than he is against his opponent, Bonfadini. Parrish says he sees the 50th District race as one with "no major issues." But he said he is vehemently opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment that would set strict guidelines for issues the General Assembly could consider in its odd-year, short sessions.
"If you elect someone to Richmond, then tie their hands, that would be wrong," said Parrish.
Both Parrish and Bonfadini stress their fiscal conservatism. But Bonfadini uses the sagging ecnomony to attack the fiscal policies of the Republican Party: "The tax burden has to be shifted off the middle-class citizen and be more equitably shared with corporations. The Reagan policy has gone too far."
Bonfadini, a professor of education at George Mason University, said he would push for laws supporting tougher discipline in the classrooms and requirements for more credits for high school graduation. He has been endorsed by the Prince William Education Assocation and the Virginia Education Association. Bonfadini worked as a teacher and administrator in the Prince William County school system 14 years before switching to George Mason University.
Bonfadini is a registered lobbyist in Richmond, working primarily for rural electrical cooperatives. He is secretary-treasurer of the Prince William Electric Cooperative.
He says he may be best known in the Manassas area for the massive Christmas display he builds each holiday season in his front yard.
"People come from all over the place to see it," Bonfadini said. "I usually dress up in a Santa Claus suit."
Parrish, chairman of the board of the family-operated Manassas Ice and Fuel Company Inc., has received campaign contributions from the political action committees of the Virginia Association of Realtors and the state Chamber of Commerce, spokespersons for the two groups said.
While Bonfadini said he has knocked on about 4,000 doors since the campaign began, Parrish said he is relying primarily on a mail-out campaign and a few large billboards. Both are using yard signs and plan to buy radio advertisements for the last days of the campaign.
Parrish is not using only his past voting records for the campaign. He saved most of his home-made, wooden signs from last year's campaign. All of them, that is, except the one a constitutent asked to keep. Parrish said she asked to use the sign for firewood.
The campaign in the neighboring 51st District is short on issue-oriented differences between Democrat Brickley and Republican McQuigg.
"He (McQuigg) seems to agree with most of the issues I'm fighting for," said incumbent Brickley.
"We agree on a lot of things," echoed McQuigg. One of those things is an elected school board. "If you're going to have public education, you need an elected school board," said McQuigg.
But Brickley contends there is one major difference between him and his opponent: "I've got the experience and track record and he doesn't."
McQuigg disagrees. "He's been around a long time and has done a reasonably good job on mundane day-to-day issues, but that's not sufficient," said McQuigg. "You've got to do things to alleviate the pressures of future society."
McQuigg says his work as a corporate planner more than makes up for his lack of political experience. He is president of Strategic Financial Planning Systems Inc., a business he started in August after doing research planning for a similar McLean firm for the past five years.
"Things are going to get worse" economically, McQuigg predicted, adding that the General Assembly should provide money for more cooperative programs between business and the public sector to retrain employes for career changes.
"There are a lot of changes taking place in the job market," said McQuigg. "A lot of people are being displaced now because their jobs are not relevent to the economy and those jobs won't come back when the recession is over."
Brickley said the biggest issue among his constituents is commuter transportation.
"They all want better transportation facilities," Brickley said. He noted that he has helped set up the Virginia Ride Sharing Act to encourage van pooling, obtained state funding to widen Davis Ford Road and to establish a commuter bus system for the area.
Brickley said his campaign has not been hurt by allegations earlier this year that he and his business associate, County Supervisor G. Richard Pfitzner, improperly used Pfitzner's position as a public official to obtain inside information for their firm's land dealings near the proposed site of a new county government complex. Brickley was cleared of any conflict-of-interest charges after a three-month investigation by the Virginia State Police.
McQuigg said the investigation "hasn't become a large issue" in the campaign, but that people "were aggravated and they resent" the possiblity of conflicts of interest by Brickley.
Brickley, president of Dominion Mortgage and Investment Corp., has received contributions from the political action committee of the Virginia Association of Realtors and the endorsements of several other groups.