Voters in Fairfax County's sprawling 34th Senate District will choose from a wide field of candidates Tuesday when they go to the polls to select nominees to succeed retiring state Sen. Adelard L. Brault, the dean of Northern Virginia's legislative delegation.
Five candidates, three Republicans and two Democrats, have been actively stumping for the post that Brault, 74, is leaving after 18 years in the General Assembly. And at least one of them, reputed Democratic front-runner Emilie F. Miller, is hoping that the popular Brault will be in the minds of many when they pull the voting lever.
Miller, who worked as Brault's legislative assistant for the past three years, is running with his endorsement, and her campaign literature prominently displays his name and photograph.
A recent two-paragraph news release from Miller mentioned Brault's name four times.
"It's been very helpful having him publicly supporting me," says Miller, 46, a former retail buyer and once chairman of the Fairfax Democratic Party.
"As I've been campaigning, I keep meeting people who say, 'If he's supporting you, that's good enough for me.' "
Attorney Daniel S. Alcorn, Miller's opponent in the Democratic primary and an associate in a Fairfax law firm, also mentions Brault in his literature, saying that he wants to carry on "the work that Sen. Brault has performed effectively." Alcorn, 27, disputes the contention of many Democrats that he is trailing.
"I'm stressing my professional training," he says. "The Virginia legislature is a place where there are a lot of lawyers and they're drafting a lot of laws. I think people understand that there's a difference between being an aide and actually doing it."
On the Republican side, financial analyst E. Joseph West, 42, is outspending both of his GOP opponents by better than 3 to 1 with a campaign that has featured four district-wide mailings and an extensive telephone bank effort.
West, who has lived in Northern Virginia for 2 1/2 years, is stressing his financial background. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative and personally provided $23,500 of the $27,556 he has spent on his campaign thus far--giving rise to charges from his opponents that he is seeking to buy the election.
West says such charges are absurd. He says he is spending a large amount of his own money on his campaign because: "That's what it takes to win. Lots of people have done it that way."
Fairfax City Mayor John W. Russell, 59, another Republican, is running a low-key campaign that stresses his background as a three-term mayor, council member and Republican activist for 19 years. He is depending in part on his political base in the politically conservative city, which includes fewer than 10,000 of the senatorial district's 52,000 registered voters.
The third Republican candidate, importer Robert E. Murphy, describes himself as a conservative and says his "liberal" background in the theater, carnivals, and with a chain of water-bed stores will enable him to represent a wide range of voter interests.
Murphy, 49, has apparently unwittingly provided the comic relief to an otherwise quiet race. Asked at a recent Republican debate why he considers himself a conservative, Murphy replied: "I believe that being a conservative is the quickest way to success. It's the quickest road to social mobility. It's a matter of simple justice."
There has been little discussion of issues in the 34th District, where candidates are more concerned with identifying friendly voters and getting them to the polls next week.
It is estimated that less than 10 percent of the district's voters--and perhaps as few as 3 percent--will vote Tuesday.
Both Alcorn and Miller stress their support for the Equal Rights Amendment and say they will work to ensure Northern Virginians a better return on their state tax dollars.
Miller also has been stressing her support for abortion rights for women, as well as completion of the 101-mile Metro transit system.
West says he will work to abolish the state highway commission, ease car-pool restrictions on Interstate 66, and establish elected school boards. He favors the ERA and opposes Medicaid funding for abortions and public housing.
Russell, a retired planner with the Defense Intelligence Agency, favors uniform criminal sentencing and raising the drinking age to 21.
He opposes the ERA. "I personally do not enjoy seeing a mud-splattered woman in fatigues carrying a submachine gun," he said at a recent GOP gathering. "For one thing, they're dangerous enough without it."
Murphy, whose campaign slogan is "A Gentleman With A Love For Virginia," says he will strive to prevent the state's lawyer-dominated legislature from passing laws to benefit the legal profession.