Two years after Michele B. McQuigg became the first woman to represent Prince William County in the House of Delegates, voters are certain to again have a woman in the seat next year--whether they send McQuigg (R) back to Richmond or choose her Democratic challenger, Virginia M. Stephens.

Stephens, 35, of Dale City, is a political newcomer who is hoping to take back the District 51 seat for her party after McQuigg won a special election in 1998 to replace longtime Democratic delegate David G. Brickley, who left to become state parks administrator. McQuigg's victory was considered a major accomplishment for Republicans because it gave the party virtual control of the House.

Asking voters to examine McQuigg's record in Richmond, Stephens has questioned McQuigg's effectiveness and has railed against a series of votes she cast within the past year that seemingly would have allowed guns on school property. McQuigg has said that Stephens is "distorting" her record, adding that in a third and decisive vote she helped strike down the measure, which was designed to let students who hunt to keep unloaded weapons locked in their cars on school lots.

The major issues that have arisen throughout the campaign cover the basic concerns of many Northern Virginia residents, from transportation and growth to education and health care. Stephens has said she is a political moderate and hopes to appeal to both parties in achieving her goals, which she has termed "kitchen table concerns."

Stephens, a lawyer, has focused on transportation issues, saying that she would work to eliminate congestion on area roads. Stephens said her plans call for bringing Metrorail to the Potomac Mills area by 2015 and adding a lane to Interstate 95.

"It is clear that there is no silver bullet to resolving our transportation crises," Stephens said. "What it is going to take are leaders who are willing to sit down to the table and address this issue on a bipartisan level, with state, local and federal lawmakers of Virginia working together."

McQuigg has once again focused her efforts on making contact with her constituency, working her characteristic door-to-door campaigning style that won her points in the last election. She said she has visited more than 12,000 homes in Prince William County during this campaign, spreading her message personally across the county.

"I want to continue to educate and empower citizens, because education is power," McQuigg said, adding that she has passed out her "Citizens Handbook" to thousands of residents. "I want to continue to help people deal with state government."

McQuigg, 52, has championed many of her accomplishments as local victories, such as establishing the first legislation approving use of laser radar for traffic enforcement and bringing more money into the localities to help alleviate road congestion and crowding in the schools, mostly through tax breaks. She said one of her long-term goals is to get a copy of the state's budget into every citizen's hands, so that "they can see where their hard-earned dollars are being spent."