Ask Sean T. Connaughton what he thinks of the state's politicians and he begins to fume. He says they have failed to pay for needed roads and schools in Prince William County, where he is chairman of the board of supervisors, and have let partisan bickering in Richmond block progress.
"I'm tired of it," said Connaughton, who is campaigning to be the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
"The state has gone from being our partner to now being a hindrance to us."
Halfway into his second term as leader of one of Virginia's fastest-growing counties, Connaughton has pledged to bring his local-government sensibilities to the state's sprawling bureaucracies. A lawyer, he talks about stopping the state's politicians from "burdening" local governments with more responsibility.
The message is a convenient one, given that his opponent, Sen. Bill Bolling (R-Hanover), is a state politician.
"I see Bolling as part of the problem, not part of the solution," Connaughton, 44, said. "He's been down there 10 years and gotten nothing done."
The contest between the two men has been fueled by plenty of money -- each has raised about $1.5 million -- and by the efforts of two of the state's leading political machines. And it's gotten testy.
One recent Bolling television ad accused Connaughton of having a "liberal record of supporting higher taxes." A Connaughton e-mail took aim at "Bolling's Baloney."
Bolling accused Connaughton of supporting the tax increases that Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and centrist Republicans pushed through the General Assembly in 2004.
Connaughton said he supported more money for his county but opposed the tax increases in light of the surging economy that was expected to generate more state revenue.
His transportation plan includes proposals to guarantee that the Transportation Trust Fund is spent exclusively on transportation while using budget surpluses to develop specific projects.
Connaughton is backed by U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), whose Northern Virginia political operation is extensive.
Bolling is supported by former governor James S. Gilmore III, who cultivated a statewide network of activists and supporters during his campaigns in the 1990s.
"This is a very interesting test of Tom Davis's ability to draw strong Republican support for a candidate," said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of politics at George Mason University.
"If his candidate loses, people will naturally say Davis isn't quite the kingmaker he thought."
Davis played down his role and touted Connaughton's record on transportation issues as the key factor in the campaign, especially in vote-rich Northern Virginia.
Citing Connaughton's work as chairman to build roads across the county without state help, Davis said: "You have to ask yourself when you are thinking about the future of this region, who do you want as your advocate?"
Bolling, a former county supervisor himself, proposes diverting existing taxes or other fees to pay for new roads, bridges and transit.
"Mr. Connaughton is a moderate Republican at best, and on some issues, like taxes, he has a liberal record," Bolling said.
"He has spent the last year and a half masquerading as a conservative. I think that's dishonest."
Bolling said Connaughton's criticism of state leaders is unwarranted and alleges that state funding for Prince William's schools and other services has increased far more than the county's cost for those services.
"When you look at the numbers, they just don't back up the rhetoric," Bolling said.
One of Connaughton's colleagues on the Board of County Supervisors, Corey A. Stewart (R-Occoquan), has endorsed Bolling. Stewart says that's because Connaughton supported the unsuccessful effort in 2002 to raise the sales tax for transportation and presided over increases in the overall tax bills for many homeowners.
"I think it's important that the party stay true to its fiscal conservative foundation," said Stewart, a new supervisor and frequent critic of the chairman.
Connaughton has earned the support of more senior Republicans on the board, including Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries).
"He's an up-and-coming star. He's been an excellent leader -- personable, charming, good-looking and smart," she said.
She called it unfair to brand Connaughton a liberal on taxes. "He's trying to work with everybody, Democrats and Republicans."
Connaughton does not back down from his campaign message. He said he hears from people "around the state" that they are frustrated with their delegates and senators.
He noted that, during his chairmanship, his county has built 18 schools and laid plans for $1.5 billion in roads -- without significant state help and while reducing the county's real estate tax rate to its lowest point in decades.
"I'm a local government official," he said. "We are at the bottom of the food chain."
Delegates and senators "go down there [to Richmond], they spend eight weeks dealing with these issues. I've got to deal with them 52 weeks a year."