The two candidates seeking the only open legislative seat in Northern Virginia are hard to reach these days. As Nov. 3 nears, they are out rapping fiercely on doors, participating in debates and attending fund-raisers.
In this spirited, tight race in House of Delegates District 37, Democrat Jeffrey J. Fairfield, a lawyer, and Republican Jane H. Woods, a public school teacher, are trying to conquer a strong opponent: lack of widespread name recognition.
"In this race, it's important for the candidates to gain name recognition," said Sally Ormsby, a member of the Fairfax Area League of Women Voters and past president of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens' Associations.
"It's very difficult for people who are running for elective office for the first time to get their names known throughout the district if they are not active in civic affairs."
The 37th District seat was left open by the retirement of Del. Stephen E. Gordy, a Republican who is leaving after four quiet years in the House.
While the area is considered friendly to the GOP, the district cannot be easily typecast. The 37th covers 15 square miles and about 35,000 registered voters. It has Fairfax City, an established, older community, as well as more thickly populated residential developments such as the town houses and condominiums that have cropped up along the I-66 corridor.
In the current race, some political observers say Democratic challenger Fairfield has a slight edge in name recognition. Fairfield gave the incumbent a fright two years ago in Gordy's race for reelection when the politically unknown lawyer came within 1 percent of winning.
But whatever advantage has come Fairfield's way, some political insiders say they believe that Woods, a teacher, businesswoman and Republican organizer in Fairfax City, makes up for it with her longstanding involvement with numerous civic and educational groups. Woods easily defeated conservative lawyer Robert W. Beers in the June primary race for the Republican nomination, with 62 percent of the vote.
The overriding issue in the 37th District, as it is in every other race in the region, is traffic.
Woods, a Northern Virginia native, said transportation should be addressed on more of a regional scale. "We are no longer the bucolic, suburban, rustic area I knew when I grew up. We need to talk about mass transit," she said.
Woods, 40, said she supports state funding for more cross-county buses because the area has blossomed into an economic center that no longer relies primarily on Washington.
On education, a field in which she has spent more than 15 years, Woods said she wants to make sure that "Fairfax County stays high on the list" as the state reviews how it will distribute dollars under the state's education allocation formula.
Dependent care for the growing number of elderly as well as children is another campaign issue. Woods says the state should provide tax incentives and help speed up the paper work for better day care centers and services.
Fairfield, 36, also regards traffic as the region's main challenge. He would like to urge new ways of fi- nancing road construction and maintenance.
He supports the legislature's ac- tion authorizing local revenue districts to finance road improvements by taxing commercial and industrial development, and he says it is time to consider letting Fairfax County, rather than the state, have control of county roads as a way of improving road maintenance.
Also, Fairfield wants to make sure that the area is not "shortchanged" as the state reevaluates how it plans to allocate education dollars.
As a civil lawyer for 11 years, Fairfield, who lives in Fairfax City, said his professional skills of persuasion, coalition building and negotiation would make him an effective legislator.
Also, he said he believes that his affiliation with the majority party makes him better equipped for the job.
He said the incumbent's principal disability was his membership in the GOP. Gordy "was ineffective in Richmond because of that," Fairfield said. "Virginia Democrats run the show in the legislature. I'm with their crowd. My opponent isn't."
Fairfield said he has raised about $23,000 and hopes to reach $30,000.
Woods said she has raised between $40,000 and $43,000, which she said includes contributions from the June primary race. Her aim is to raise about $50,000.
Woods has drawn attention to her community involvement and her education experience.
"I'm someone who cares about the community. And I've put my money where my mouth is as a private citizen who has worked with many volunteer groups," she said.
Woods is on leave from her job as a first grade teacher at North Springfield Elementary School. Also, she owns and manages commercial real estate.
Each candidate concedes that a victory will not be easy. And if 37th District resident Gary Marshall is any indication, the candidates need to do a great deal more door-knocking before Election Day.
Marshall, a past chairman of the Blake Lane and Jermantown Road Neighborhood Association, said he is not very familiar with the candidates or their issues, although he shook hands once with Fairfield.
In his area, Marshall said, residents want someone in the state house who will push a proposal through the bureaucracy to ban tanker trucks from blazing through their neighborhood when Blake Lane is widened and connected to two-lane Pickett Road.
"It's these kinds of things that the delegate, in my judgment, should be helping on," Marshall commented.