The Republican candidates in the primary for the 41st House District sound very much alike on the most prominent issues.

Both William A. Finerfrock, 49, a lobbyist and executive director of the National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and Michael J. Golden, 31, an appellate lawyer, oppose gay marriage, favor measures to reduce illegal immigration and think Virginia's taxes are too high.

But there are distinctions between the two, as each will tell you in his own way.

Finerfrock sees the key difference between them as his record of civic activism. He has coached baseball, basketball and soccer; he's been active in the local Republican Party, at one time serving as Springfield committee chairman; he is vice president of the West Springfield High School Booster Club's board of directors; and he has served on the county's Health Care Advisory Board since 1993.

"The biggest thing in my mind is experience in the community," Finerfrock said. "I think you have to do more than just live in a place and have a house. When I look at my opponent, I don't see that.

"I see this campaign as a logical extension of the activism I've had in the community and taking that to Richmond," he said.

Golden meanwhile alludes to his relative youthfulness. "There's an energy I can bring to the party," he said.

He noted that he has attended public schools in the area and described himself as a lifelong resident. His resume also includes his role as a volunteer member of the board of directors for Bethany Christian Services, a nonprofit group that offers pregnancy and adoption services.

"When you're in a community for a while, you get an understanding of the principles and policies that are good for your area," he said.

Asked how he would distinguish between himself and his opponent, however, Golden takes a different tack.

"The first thing is taxes," he said.

While both candidates take anti-tax stands -- both, for example, strenuously oppose the landmark state tax legislation approved by the General Assembly last year after an epic struggle -- Golden points out that he has signed what is known in local political circles as "the pledge," a kind of litmus test on the issue.

The taxpayer protection pledge, espoused by Americans for Tax Reform, asks candidates to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."

Golden has made the pledge; Finerfrock has not.

In conversations with the district's voters, "the number-one issue people raise is taxes," Golden said. "It's easy at this level to say I'm against taxes.

"I don't see how anyone can consider tax increases when we have a $1.2 billion surplus and over $1 billion of annual waste. If it's good enough for George Allen, it's good enough for me," he said.

Finerfrock counters that the tax pledge is "irresponsible" because it is impossible to tell what circumstances might be in the future.

"I haven't found a tax increase that I like, but I'm not going to sign a tax pledge," he said. "How do we know what's going to be happening 10 years from now?"

And he turns the issue back to the comparison he prefers: experience.

"Life tempers your ideology," Finerfrock said. "You can't approach every issue as an ideological exercise -- because it affects people."

The 41st District seat, part of Fairfax County, has been held since 1980 by Del. James H. Dillard II (R), who is retiring.