Of the four candidates in last week's Republican primary for Virginia attorney general, three bought ads on television, the essential tool of most statewide campaigns.
The TV-free candidate won by 11 percentage points.
State Sen. Mark R. Earley, a father of six from the Christian Coalition's home base of Chesapeake, had no billboards, no rallies, no news conferences. Instead, he deployed two weapons that turned out to be much more potent: 3,000 preachers and 45,000 postcards.
"We had very little money, and yet we raised up an army," said Richard H. Black, a retired Army colonel from Loudoun County who volunteered as Earley's Northern Virginia coordinator.
Earley, the state legislature's most aggressive abortion opponent, offered himself as a "champion for the dignity and worth of human life." He also said he would like to kill the popular Virginia Lottery. His mailings targeted opponents of pornography and supporters of charter schools, and his campaign sent a letter to Protestant ministers seeking endorsements from the pulpit.
Earley gambled that turnout would be low, and he was right -- only 5 percent of the state's registered voters went to the polls, the lowest figure for a statewide election since 1949. He decided which groups were most likely to vote for him, made sure those voters got to the polls and ignored everyone else.
It worked. On Tuesday, he got 36 percent of the vote, 60,235, in a field of four.
Earley's victory shows how a small but savvy group can have a loud voice in Virginia politics. But several political consultants said Earley will need a very different game plan for November's battle with the Democratic nominee for attorney general, William D. Dolan, an Arlington lawyer.
"You can't run a general-election campaign underground," said Mandy Grunwald, a Democratic media consultant. "The true believers are not going to win it for you. There just aren't enough of them."
Grunwald has been there before: She made the 1993 ads that helped sink Michael P. Farris, the home-schooling leader who lost his Republican bid for Virginia lieutenant governor. She said candidates such as Earley have trouble keeping their own supporters energized at the same time they're reaching out to the broader electorate.
"If you suddenly seem moderate, your hypocrisy catches up with you," she said. "And anything you say when you're preaching to the choir can be made into a television commercial by your opponent."
Earley said in an interview Friday that although his beliefs won't change, he won't propose anything radical.
"You can't attempt to move your constituency where they're not ready to go yet," he said. "You try to find common ground and make progress in those areas. Ronald Reagan was demonized for talking about welfare reform 17 years ago, but now everyone agrees that welfare reform is important."
Earley, 42, majored in religion at the College of William and Mary and once planned to become a minister. After two years as a missionary in the Philippines, he attended William and Mary law school and now has a general practice that he said includes real estate and personal injury cases and criminal defense.
The two-term senator, known as a shrewd legislative tactician, won passage this winter of a law requiring a parent of a minor to be notified before the minor has an abortion. Republicans say they hope he will be able to reach out to Democrats and independents because of his record of support from union members (his father was a boiler engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard) and from Catholics who oppose abortion.
Earley's chief strategist, Anne B. Kincaid, said the candidate plans a motor home tour of the Old Dominion so that voters can meet his family. "Now we just go bigger and broader," she said.
"Mark has spent the last decade protecting and preserving the rights of all Virginia families," she said. "We just have to get Mark out there so people can see him, and not depend on being filtered through the media or a smear campaign."
Indeed, Democrats began attacking Earley in radio ads the day after the primary.
"Our job is to make sure people know the zealots," said Sue Wrenn, the chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.
The radio ad, bought by Dolan, says: "My opponent is out of touch with the majority of Virginians -- beholden to a small minority. . . . He's the hand-picked candidate of the narrow right wing of the Republican party. It's time for you and me -- the silent majority of Virginians -- to take back our government."
What Dolan calls the "narrow right wing," Kincaid calls "issue-motivated voters."
During the primary campaign, Earley bought mailing lists from groups that defend causes Kincaid summarized as "faith, freedom and free enterprise." He then sent 600,000 pieces of mail, with the most promising voters receiving four letters and a phone call.
The appeals were unusually personal. A four-page letter used the stationery of the candidate's wife, Cynthia Earley, a nurse who told how they had met through a campus ministry. She closed with the family's phone number, urging recipients to call "if you have any questions whatsoever."
"Yes, that's our real home phone number," she added. "If it's busy, please keep trying. I don't want to miss your call."
An endorsement letter from Walt Barbee, of Fairfax County, co-founder of the Family Foundation, began, "Dear Friend of the Family," and showed a snapshot of the Earley clan. A letter signed simply "Mark" began, "Dear Pro-life Friend."
Earley's pastor, the Rev. A. George Sweet, of Atlantic Shores Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, sent fellow ministers a suggested script for a "personal endorsement announcement" that he urged them to make to their congregations, citing "our moral obligation to speak truth."
The script, which referred to Internal Revenue Service guidelines for tax-exempt groups, said: "The IRS guidelines say I can tell you who I am going to vote for and why, as long as I don't tell you how to vote. I am voting for Senator Mark Earley, who has been our true pro-life, pro-family standard-bearer."
The political action committee of the Virginia Society for Human Life issued its first endorsement ever for a nomination, lauding Earley in its newsletter, the Lifesaver.
Earley also printed postcards with a go-vote message ("I'd like to share with you my heartfelt support for a man . . . "), then had supporters sign them, stamp them and mail them to like-minded friends.
"It's the personal touch. It makes people think, My vote counts,' " said Patricia Phillips, 39, of Sterling, who sent 100 cards to a list that included an aunt, a brother-in-law, two cousins and the members of her third-grade daughter's car pool. When the campaign ran out of postcards, several supporters said they printed their own. Black, the Earley coordinator, noted that on highway ramps and medians in Northern Virginia, Earley had the fewest signs of any of the candidates. "They had signs on the Beltway," Black said. "We had them at polling places." CAPTION: MARK R. EARLEY