With less than a month before Election Day, the incumbents vying to retain their seats on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors agree with their hard-charging challengers on at least one thing: They all might lose.
"I'm sure it could happen," said Supervisor Alvin Y. Bandy (R-George Washington). "If people really want it, it's going to happen."
Bandy has faced strong opposition from Democratic challenger Peter Fields. Fellow Supervisors Robert C. Gibbons (R-Rock Hill) and Lindbergh A. Fritter (R-Griffis-Widewater) also are in tough battles against strong opponents.
In the Griffis-Widewater District, independent Jack Cavalier is reckoning that his increased name recognition and the influx of new residents will enable him to overtake Fritter, who has served some 20 years off and on. Cavalier came close in 1995, losing to Fritter by 145 votes. He thinks he has a better chance this time because there are only two candidates, not three, as in 1995.
Gibbons, meanwhile, is entangled in a tough fight with independent Bill Gray, a political neophyte who is hoping to benefit from anti-Gibbons sentiment.
Despite the hard-fought contests, most political observers agree that it is unlikely that all three challengers will prevail in November. Stafford has long been a haven for incumbent Republicans, and for three of them to be toppled in one election would be unprecedented. Some say that if even one loses, a situation that has happened only once in the last dozen years, it would be a surprise.
"I cannot relate any scenario that that would occur," said John Van Hoy, chairman of the Stafford Republican Club. "I can't imagine we would be that much asleep at the wheel."
But the rapid transformation of the county gives hope to the challengers. Supervisor David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth) latched onto the theme of managing Stafford's fast-coming growth two years ago and shocked virtually the entire county when he defeated incumbent Ray Smith, a Republican. November's election will help explain whether his victory was an aberration or an emerging trend.
"It would be a marvelous shift on that board" if the three challengers win, said Alane Callander, chairman of the Stafford County Democratic Party. "The only people that really want to send the incumbents back are the people tied to the development community. The challengers are the better candidates."
Although the incumbents enjoy name recognition and the Republican label, a number of factors give the challengers hope. In the last four years, 15,000 new voters have moved into Stafford, a great many of whom hold more liberal views than the current supervisors, observers say.
"It's hard to tell [who will win] in this district," Fritter acknowledged. "There are 20 percent different voters from four years ago. I'd like to pull it out, but I expect it won't be a landslide either way."
And Stafford's recent growth spurt may work against the incumbents. Many longtime residents, who prefer forests to subdivisions, lay the blame on the current board members. The rapid growth also has spurred a sense of change and desire for fresh ideas, something the challengers have tried to capitalize on by positioning themselves as the youthful, fresh alternatives to their older opponents.
"People are definitely looking for a change," Cavalier said. "If some new supervisors are elected this time, and with the one elected two years ago, there will be a big change in the composition of the board and the good ol' boy network will finally begin to die."
Although the three challengers might benefit from general trends, they are using a range of populist issues to try to overcome their opponents. Fields has pinned his campaign on bringing commuter bus service to the southern part of the county, Cavalier is pushing for more recreational facilities, and Gray has positioned himself as a fiscally conservative alternative to Gibbons. Gibbons did not return calls seeking comment.
The three stress their independence but say they speak to each other regularly and would welcome the chance to govern together.
"We have different personalities and different focuses," Fields said. "But obviously all of us think we'd work extremely well together on the board. We share a commitment to controlling growth and increasing the quality of life."
Still, the challengers and their supporters are aware that it would take a minor miracle to pull off a sweep.
"I'm hopeful, but I'm a realist, too," Callander said. "I know these races can be very close and every vote counts, but a lot has to happen between now and the election for any [challenger] to pull it off."