State Del. Gary A. Reese (R-Fairfax), an abortion opponent and supporter of a ban on same-sex marriage, says he never thought he would be labeled a liberal in an election campaign. But amid the acrimony of the 67th District's Republican primary, that's how he sees himself being characterized.
First-time candidate Chris Craddock, a 26-year-old youth pastor, is running on a platform that puts Reese squarely to his left.
He accused Reese of having a mixed voting record on "moral issues" and supporting a state budget that raised taxes last year.
Reese, 60, who is seeking his third term in the House of Delegates, countered by insisting that he is, in fact, a social conservative and called his opponent an "extremist." He said Craddock has never worked in government or volunteered in civic groups.
Much of the debate between the candidates has focused on the decision by Reese and 16 other House Republicans to buck their party's anti-tax orthodoxy over the state budget last year.
Reese said that the legislative impasse over the budget could have shut down the state government and that it threatened Virginia's high bond rating, which keeps interest rates low for the government.
The budget approved by the legislature in 2004 increased some taxes and allocated more money for public schools and other services.
"I think what really concerns me the most is that Chris really has some extreme views," said Reese, who was a member of the Fairfax County School Board for nearly 10 years before he became a delegate in 2002.
"When I was on the school board, the newspapers attacked me for being one of the most conservative school board members around, and now I'm being portrayed as a liberal."
Craddock is among the candidates supported by Virginia Conservative Action PAC, which is seeking to punish Republicans who broke ranks over the tax issue.
Craddock has signed an anti-tax pledge backed by the group, which commits him "to oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."
Financially, at least, aligning with Virginia Conservative Action has been a boon for Craddock. The group directly contributed $20,000 of his total $49,383 campaign funds as of the March 31 reporting deadline, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Reese had raised $33,371. Of that, $10,000 came from Leadership for Virginia, an organization backing the delegates who supported the tax increase.
Craddock said he wants to ban same-sex civil unions and opposes abortion in all cases.
"I found Gary to be on the wrong side of issues that are very important," Craddock said. "And when I saw that he was on the wrong side of those issues, I decided to run."
Reese said he also opposes same-sex civil unions and believes abortion is wrong, but would make exceptions for rape victims and women whose lives are at stake.
"I have a 100 percent pro-traditional-family voting record," Reese said.
"I have voted against civil unions, a 100 percent voting record against abortion."
Several times during an interview, Craddock mentioned that Reese was endorsed 14 years ago by the Washington Blade, a gay-oriented newspaper, when Reese first ran for state delegate, because he supported ending Virginia's sodomy laws. In addition, he criticized Reese for voting to allow people applying for marriage licenses to get information on family planning and birth defects.
"It makes you question what [Reese] really stands for," Craddock said. "He makes statements that he is pro-life . . . but it's murky, his whole voting record is murky."
Reese said he was proud of the way he voted on that bill because it did not explicitly endorse abortion and because his family has a history of birth defects. Married couples deserve to be informed of their options, he said.
Craddock acknowledged that he has not worked in government and does not belong to civic groups but said he has been involved in the community as a soccer coach and youth minister.
He said that he has some experience in crafting budgets from running his personal household as well as from working at his church, the King's Chapel, which is a nondenominational congregation.
The 67th District includes western Fairfax and parts of Loudoun.