Few races offer such a stark contrast of youth and experience.
John Mason, 70, served as Fairfax City mayor for 12 years. Jim L. Kaplan, 34, has never been elected to a public office. They both play those facts their own way.
"He's a nice young man, but he doesn't have any track record," Mason said of Kaplan.
"At 70, I'm not sure he has the commitment to the long term required to build up seniority," Kaplan said of Mason.
The two candidates in the June 14 Republican primary for the 37th District House of Delegates seat agree generally on the key issues for local voters: Both campaigns are highlighting transportation, taxes and education.
The 37th District, which extends over Fairfax City and nearby portions of Fairfax County, is considered a swing district. The winner of the Republican primary will face either David Bulova or Janet Oleszek, the candidates in the Democratic primary, in the Nov. 8 general election. Del. J. Chapman Petersen is not seeking reelection and is running instead in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
Although Kaplan and Mason agree on many issues, one of the clearest contrasts between the two emerges in their positions on the failed November 2002 referendum for Northern Virginia transportation. That proposal would have increased the sales tax by a half cent on the dollar to raise $5 billion over 20 years for road and rail construction in Northern Virginia.
Mason, who has served as chairman of regional transportation committees and sees transit issues as his primary motivation for seeking state office, supported the referendum.
"It was a critical opportunity to provide some funding that would go directly to Northern Virginia," Mason said.
Kaplan said the proposal would have increased Northern Virginia's sales taxes without necessarily meaning more spending for local roads, because the state might have reduced its existing spending on Northern Virginia roads by a compensating amount.
"We [in Northern Virginia] would have paid more money but gotten no more spending here in return," Kaplan said. "It would have meant the same amount for transportation, but a higher tax for Northern Virginians."
Mason said that such comments suggest that Kaplan, like many voters, misunderstood how the transportation funding would have worked.
"We didn't do a good enough job explaining that the money would go to Northern Virginia -- and not Richmond," he said.
Kaplan has also raised questions about Mason's allegiance to the Republican Party.
He said, for example, that Mason has made political contributions to Democrats such as Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. Kaine is campaigning against Republican Jerry W. Kilgore for the governor's office.
"Quite frankly, I'm surprised he wants to serve on the same ticket as Jerry Kilgore when he donated to Tim Kaine in 2003," Kaplan said.
Campaign records show a donation from Mason to Kaine of $35.
Mason dismissed the criticism, noting that Fairfax City elections are nonpartisan and that he has sought to build coalitions across party lines.
"In the City of Fairfax, we operated in a nonpartisan environment," Mason said. "We built bridges across parties. It's the kind of leadership you need heading toward Richmond, where you need to do a lot of consensus building."