Homemade posters and a good speech were all it used to take to run a campaign for student body president at the Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean. That was before 10-year-old Chris Craver brought grade school politics into the high-tech age of direct mail.
"Dear Chesterbrook Friend," Chris wrote in a typed letter sent to the homes of his 176 schoolmates eligible to vote in student elections this morning. "On Friday, you will be making a very important decision. On that day, we will be electing school officers. I am running for president, and I would very much like your vote and support."
If Chris' campaign tactics seem a bit more sophisticated than the average pupil pol, he comes by them honestly. His father is Roger Craver, direct-mail fund-raising wizard for the national Democratic Party and a wide variety of liberal groups and causes.
Lending the ticket a bipartisan flavor is Chris' campaign manager, Paul Thurmond, 10-year-old son of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), one of the most ardent conservatives in Congress.
"It was my idea," said Chris after a rousing campaign rally at Chesterbrook yesterday. "I was just thinking of ideas, and I thought of my dad . . . . Direct mail works."
Apparently it works very well.
"A bunch of boys in the second grade said they had planned to vote for me, but now they've changed their vote to him," sighed Marili Uno, Chris' opponent.
Only in the Washington area, perhaps, do 10-year-olds rip pages from the lesson books of national politics to run elementary school campaigns. And only in Washington would the sons of two political opposites such as Craver and Thurmond become campaign allies.
"I decided to be Chris' campaign manager because I'm his friend," said Paul. "Where my dad is and where his dad is doesn't matter at all."
Nonetheless, he added, "I didn't tell my dad about it. I'm kind of afraid to mention it to him."
But Roger Craver said he recognized that student politics can make strange bedfellows. "Kids at that age tend not to be ideological and so I'm glad they're friends," he said. "The pollsters say that partisanship is a function of age. At least it's not a factor at that age."
Nonetheless, on the key issue in his campaign, Chris has followed the liberal bearings of his parents, both founding partners of Craver, Matthews, Smith and Co. Regarding what he charges is the poor quality of the student cafeteria, Chris demands stricter regulation -- a cockroach was reputed to have been found on the pizza -- and a greater variety of entrees.
Although Chris is the first to use direct mail in his campaign, children at Chesterbrook have always taken their politics seriously. "It's amazing how into elections they get," said Chesterbrook Principal Betsy Keahey. "They use very sophisticated techniques. One of the candidates asked if he could set up a 'campaign network' in each of the classrooms."
If Chris wins in today's election, he won't be the first political progeny to hold the presidency at Chesterbrook. The current president, Key Reid, is the son of Rep. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).