Results of a top secret poll obtained this week by The Washington Post reveal that an understandably silent majority of voters in Northern Virginia has never figured out exactly who has been representing the 8th District in Congress for the last decade.
Here's a clue: Stanford E. Parris and Herbert E. Harris II. The former is the incumbent; the latter is the former incumbent.
Seems simple enough. Right? Well, try it fast:
ParrisHarrisHarrisParrisParrisHarrisHarrisParrisHarrisParris. . . .
Parris and Harris may know who they are, but for voters who haven't kept up-to-the-minute on this year's congressional races, it could be a bit confusing.
One survey question alone showed that, regardless of their party affiliation or length of residence, 99 percent of all those polled were unable to select the correct answer to the following question:
"Every other year, this part of Northern Virginia has a congressional race between:
(a) Stan Harris and Herb Parris.
(b) Herb Stanford and Stan Herbert.
(c) Harris Parris and Herbert Stanford.
(d) Pat Harris and Lemar Parrish.
(e) Stanford Parris and Herbert Harris.
(f) Parris Glendening and Clifton Terrace.
(g) All or none of the above.
According to one pollster, even those voters who correctly selected (e) couldn't keep it straight long enough to get to the polls and cast ballots.
One voter attempted to determine which candidate was which by checking congressional sources in the House office building complex on Capitol Hill. She was referred to a man in the basement of the Capitol whose periodic detail includes putting up nameplates for House members. The man, who has been on the job for 11 years, said he couldn't recall who last moved in from Virginia's 8th District. But the man remembered that he left early that day because he only had to change one letter in the last name.
The news coverage hasn't been all that much help, either. Radio and TV newscasters purposely slur the names to avoid having to make retractions later. A check of recent newspaper clips turned up few clues. A Post headline last month read: Harris and Parris, in Debate, Voice Similar Soviet Stances
This account concluded by saying, "The young audience applauded loudly for each candidate and hooted with enjoyment when they attacked one another." Again, no indication of distinctions or preferences.
Another clip carried the headline, "Neck and Neck," which was not another pair of candidates, but the latest reading of polls from these two contenders this year. It's a tossup, both camps were saying.
Legend has it that the two candidates don't like each other, which could be one basis for the close vote splits over the years. Yet one news report said both men "began the campaign this year by denying that they dislike each other, while gently lobbing the insults that have become a trademark of their campaigns."
"Stan has an extraordinarily pleasing personality -- and taking the stands he does, it really takes an extraordinarily pleasing personality," said Harris.
"I don't think Herb Harris is evil," said Parris. "I just think he's wrong."
For the record, Parris, a Republican, was elected in 1972 but was defeated by Harris, a Democrat, in 1974. Then Harris won by slim margins against other Republican challengers in 1976 and 1978 and then lost to Parris in 1980. On Sept. 24 of this year, Parris called his reelection campaign "a referendum on Herb Harris," which may have confused certain voters who had thought of the race as more of a referendum on the incumbent rather than the challenger.
However it stacks up, the latest rematch will be over in less than a fortnight -- and will have to go some to top the insult-trading of two years ago.
Said Parris then, "One of the burdens of running this campaign is being forced to sit here and listen to my opponent bellow like a bull moose."
Said Harris then, "I think it's by far the worst campaign I've been in."
But not the last. Go for it, men -- whoever you are.