The race for the 13th House District began with the controversial Hugh Finn right-to-die case and now is focused on the more bread-and-butter issues of how to improve Prince William schools and get more money for roads.
It was her fury at Republican Del. Robert G. Marshall's intervention in the Manassas case that persuaded Democrat and first-time candidate Denise M. Oppenhagen, a registered nurse who works at Prince William Hospital, to run for his seat.
The attempts by Marshall--a four-term Christian conservative--to prevent Finn's wife, Michele, from removing her husband's feeding tube last year "appalled" Oppenhagen, who called that an extremist move that overstepped the rights of government to intrude in private lives.
"We have a government official who has decided that everyone should follow his moral values," she said of Marshall, who joined Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) and other conservatives in attempting to stop Michele Finn from removing her husband's life support.
"It pervades everything," said Oppenhagen, a Lake Ridge resident who describes herself as a "moderate to conservative" Democrat.
Marshall said his role in the Finn case has not energized new voters to change their views of him. "It's close to abortion. If you're really annoyed at me about one, you're probably going to be annoyed at me about the other," Marshall said.
Beyond the Finn case, both candidates say their biggest priority is improving Prince William's schools. Marshall, 55, says he will propose legislation in the General Assembly to give middle- and high-school students school credit for Internet classes "to train them to compete in a more technical world."
Marshall favors tax credits for private schools and home-school programs and denies charges that those credits would siphon money from public schools.
"Every child who comes out of the public schools leaves more money that can be spent on kids in public schools," he said.
Oppenhagen said tax credits would amount to "giving up" on public education.
Marshall, who lives just outside Manassas, schooled his five children at home. He says he's running on his record of "practical" accomplishments--such as asking Gilmore to fund a study of widening Interstate 66 to three lanes inside the Capital Beltway.
Oppenhagen, who has a 5-year-old son, said she favors smaller classrooms, which would require construction of more schools. To that end, she proposes that all state lottery proceeds be devoted to building schools rather than reserving half the proceeds for educational programs.
After speaking at a fund-raiser for Oppenhagen in August, Michele Finn was expected to be a much bigger presence in Oppenhagen's campaign. But because of continuing legal issues with the state, Finn has kept a low profile, remaining at her home in Kentucky.
Marshall collected $82,000 in donations as of Oct. 20 and spent $32,000, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Oppenhagen had spent about $40,000 of the $52,000 she raised.