With the intraparty primaries behind them, Republican and Democratic activists in Northern Virginia are turning their attention to the Nov. 2 races for the General Assembly, when statewide political power will truly hang in the balance.
Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) lost a little face in winning with only two of his four GOP candidates on June 8, and his organization's focus quickly turned to the fall season, when all 100 House of Delegates seats and every slot in the 40-member state Senate will be on the line.
As time goes by this summer, it's still the same old story for most regional candidates, as they joust about perennial issues such as traffic congestion, suburban sprawl, education and taxes.
But there are new wrinkles as well. Gilmore's intervention last year in the Hugh Finn right-to-die case and his stiff opposition to the legislature's desire to compensate Finn's widow for her legal costs earlier this year could wreak havoc for several Republicans defending their seats, in districts such as those held by Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William) and Del. Jeannemarie Devolites (Fairfax).
So could Gilmore's intervention last week in his internal party races, some Republicans said.
"It gives the Democrats something to run on, and they didn't have that before," said Del. Harry J. Parrish (R-Prince William), co-chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee.
"That's what they're going to use: That the governor wants everybody in lock step," Parrish added. "I think we'll still get the majority. We just might not get as big a majority, is all." Republicans are at parity in the House of Delegates and hold a razor-thin majority over Democrats in the state Senate.
Other analysts think mostly local issues will prevail, as voters turn to candidates for ways to replace trailer-classrooms, fix the "mixing bowl" on Interstate 95 in Springfield and further cut their taxes.
"People win seats this year by localizing issues as much as possible," said John Hishta, the veteran Republican operative in Northern Virginia who supervises the dispensing of local political money by U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R).
"People want specific solutions to their problems, and the area is now too big to lump together," Hishta said.
Hishta and Democratic observers believe the issues of growth and transportation will play most effectively in outer suburbs such as Prince William and Loudoun counties, rather than in the more established enclaves inside the Beltway.
That's because there are so many new voters rushing into the far-flung suburbs, where housing is more affordable but where many continue to feel the chronic pinch of clogged roads and inadequate school facilities.
Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), a moderate 24-year veteran of the legislature, said new voters could be the key in his fall race against Robert S. FitzSimmonds III (R), who won last week's primary.
"There are 98,000 registered voters, and 42,000 of them have been here less than four years," Colgan said. "I've got to get the new voters."
Colgan concedes he is on tricky turf nowadays. When he first entered the General Assembly, the county delegation consisted of three delegates and one state senator, all Democrats.
Today, after emerging as one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, Prince William has four GOP delegates, two Republican senators and a lone Democratic senator: Colgan.
But the feisty aviation executive, who stands in line to be number three in Senate seniority, said he will bide his time for the moment, allowing FitzSimmonds to begin charting the election agenda.
"I'm not going to move any further to the right," Colgan said.
One school of thought suggests it will be a generally incumbent-friendly year for delegates such as Democrat James M. Scott of Merrifield, who is widely regarded as running in a strong position against Patrick Kelley, a Republican from Falls Church.
Ditto for a Republican like Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a committee chairman after 32 years of service here, who faces a rematch from two years ago against Carole L. Herrick, a Democrat who lives in McLean, as he does.
"The hot economy has people pretty satisfied with the status quo," said Scott Keeter, a political scientist and pollster based at George Mason University. "I don't see any issue like the car tax that's going to be grabbed by a clever candidate."
There are at least two Northern Virginia races in which the parties and individual givers will throw enormous resources at winning.
As Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) retires, Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D), is giving up her delegate's seat in Mount Vernon to seek the Senate seat. She's opposed by Daniel F. Rinzel, an Alexandria Republican, who has run before in the affluent district.
Another big-dollar race in Fairfax County pits Sen. Jane H. Woods (R) against former delegate and Congress member Leslie L. Byrne, a Democrat who is touting her record on transportation safety issues, especially in the aftermath of the Interstate 95 accident on June 2 involving an overturned truck carrying gunpowder.
Virginia Dobey, a conservative who is running as an independent, is also in the race.
Another important Northern Virginia race is the rematch between Republican Thomas M. Bolvin, a 35-year-old insurance executive in Franconia, and Del. Gladys B. Keating (D), 75, who has represented the area for the past 22 years.
Bolvin wants to make intense development a key issue in the campaign and is targeting younger voters who are filling in older houses and developments such as Kingstowne, just north of Fort Belvoir.
"Those are the people we are especially reaching out to," Bolvin said this week.
Bolvin captured 49 percent of the vote against Keating two years ago, losing by fewer than 500 votes in a race that drew more than 18,000 voters. He has knocked on 2,000 doors since February in trying to unseat Keating, who is co-chairman of the important House committee that sets policy on corporations, insurance and banking.
Staff writer Craig Timberg contributed to this report.