In a state election cycle as critical to both parties as this one, any open seat is the subject of much attention, money and hope.

With Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D) running for the state Senate, the fight is on to see who will succeed her as delegate from the 44th House District, which encompasses parts of the Mount Vernon and Lee districts, and the politics have gotten more negative in recent weeks.

Kristen J. Amundson, 49, a freelance writer and longtime School Board member, is Puller's handpicked successor. Opposing her is Republican Scott T. Klein, 34, a lifelong resident of the district, former aide to Sen. John W. Warner (R) and vice president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

Amundson touts her familiarity with education issues and her connections to the community.

"I've seen the state play a larger and larger role in issues that I care about, and they're not always going in a direction that I think is right," she said, citing health care, transportation and education.

Klein also stresses his ties to the community.

"I was born and raised in the Mount Vernon area," he said. "I also believe my professional activities lend themselves well to leadership."

Klein wants to use his business connections to revitalize the Route 1 corridor, an area he says he remembers riding his bike to as a youngster for a summer ice cream cone.

Amundson wants to triple funding for alternative education and hone the state's implementation of the new Standards of Learning.

She cites her work on the School Board: fighting for timeout rooms in schools, bringing the international baccalaureate program to the county and promoting a program to help low-performing schools.

But Klein replies that schools in the 44th District are in sorry shape and that a number of the schools with the lowest test scores are in the district.

The candidates further differ on some social policy issues.

Amundson--a cancer survivor who came through in part, she says, because "I had to fight cancer, but I didn't have to fight my HMO"--wants to change state law to allow patients to sue their health maintenance organizations.

Klein believes the administrative panel created by the state legislature to overturn wrongful denials is the better approach.

"Everybody's out making a buck rather than addressing health care needs," he said.

Klein said he opposes abortion but would not change its legal status, except to require parental consent for a minor.

Amundson supports abortion rights and has some qualms about requiring parental notification. "Every kid is not blessed with two loving parents," she said.

In recent weeks, Klein and the Republican Party have gone negative, slamming Amundson in mailings for her vote to raise School Board salaries from $8,000 to $12,000, even though Amundson would not benefit from the raise, because she had announced she would not run again.

The mailings also quoted former School Board member Fred Ward denouncing Amundson for the vote. Ward publicly announced that the quote in question had not referred to Amundson, but Klein continued to send the mailings, saying the message was appropriate. The district has narrowly favored Democrats in recent elections, choosing Donald S. Beyer Jr. over Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) in 1997 and Mary Sue Terry over former governor George Allen (R) in 1993.

By the end of September, Klein had raised $167,867, compared with $115,437 by Amundson. He had outspent her by more than $35,000. Democrats 2000, a national organization, sent a full-time volunteer to work for Amundson.

DISTRICT 44: House of Delegates

Kristen J. Amundson (D)

Age: 49.

Residence: Mount Vernon.

Education: BA, Macalester College; MA, American University.

Occupation: Self-employed writer.

Elected offices/civic activities: Mount Vernon District member and former chairman, Fairfax County School Board; president, Westgrove Citizens Association; president, Route One Corridor Housing; member, State Commission on Educational Accountability.

Family: Divorced; one child.

Why should the voters elect you?

"Ever since I started volunteering in my daughter Sara's kindergarten class at Belle View, I've worked to make our community better. Through active involvement with PTA, band boosters, athletic boosters, charities, civic associations and the School Board, I've gained firsthand, in-depth knowledge of our community. That experience will help me address the issues facing the 44th District. We need transportation solutions now--not years of further study. We need to keep guns out of recreation centers. We need to give patients the right to hold health plans accountable. Working with [Linda T.] "Toddy" Puller, I will do those things as delegate."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. My greatest accomplishment is my daughter Sara."

Web site: www.amundson.org

E-mail address: rfpeters@erols.com

Scott T. Klein (R)

Age: 34.

Residence: Alexandria.

Education: BS, MBA, Virginia Tech.

Occupation: Manager, government relations, TRW Inc.

Elected offices/civic activities: Legislative assistant, U.S. Sen. John W. Warner; legislative assistant, former state delegate Bob Cunningham; legislative assistant, former Fairfax County supervisor T. Farrell Egge; vice president, legislative affairs, Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce; former secretary, Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations.

Family: Single.

Why should the voters elect you?

"A community leader and lifelong resident of the Mount Vernon-Fort Hunt area, I will utilize my successful legislative record advising our region's leadership, including being a policy adviser to Senator John Warner, to improve our quality of life in four areas: I'm committed to replacing blight and crime with economic prosperity and quality jobs along the Richmond Highway corridor; I have the legislative experience it takes to enact effective, nonpartisan solutions to gridlock; a product of Virginia's public schools, I will focus on achievement and discipline in our classrooms; and I will eliminate the car tax."

What would you like voters to know about you?

"Known as a results-oriented consensus-builder, I got my start in public service as student body president at Mount Vernon High School."

E-mail address: scottklein@aol.com