C. Chuck Caputo and Chris S. Craddock, both newcomers to state politics, are in a tight contest for the 67th House District seat. Both say they want to protect the state's transportation trust fund from being cherry-picked for pet projects. And they promise to ally themselves with other Northern Virginia delegates to ensure that more of the tax revenue generated by the region is spent in the region.
That's about where the similarities end. Caputo, 67, is a retired defense worker and Democrat who applauds the 2004 state budget that allocated more money for public schools and other services by raising taxes. Craddock, 27, is a conservative youth pastor and Republican who opposes any tax increases.
Facing both men is Libertarian Chuck J. Eby Jr., who calls himself the "hybrid candidate" -- a social liberal who wants to repeal last year's tax increases, secure private financing for roads and push for school vouchers.
All three are seeking the spot being vacated by two-term delegate Gary A. Reese (R-Fairfax), whom Craddock defeated in a rancorous June primary. Reese was one of 17 House Republicans who flouted their party's leadership to support Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner's proposals on taxation and spending, a move Craddock criticized.
Both parties are closely following the race between Caputo and Craddock. The 67th District, which includes western Fairfax County and part of Loudoun County, was the only district in Fairfax that voted for President Bush last year and is considered a Republican stronghold.
Craddock, an opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, says his anti-tax, conservative-values message fits the district. Caputo, who has been endorsed by Reese, says strong support in the district for Warner means "the time is right to switch the flag from the Republican to Democratic side here."
Craddock, who grew up in Northern Virginia, said he would tackle problems with "common-sense solutions" -- not with tax revenue -- and has accused Caputo of wanting to "throw money at issues." He proposes funding local transportation projects through rental car and auto insurance taxes. Craddock also supports capping annual property tax increases at 5 percent.
"Our property taxes are just rolling people over," said Craddock, who coaches soccer at Chantilly High School. Craddock, who is married and has a young daughter, said his work as a youth pastor and coach has helped him understand families' needs.
Regarding education, Craddock said he wants money spent more wisely, which he said means more for the classroom and less for administration.
Caputo, a retiree who has lived in the 67th District for 36 years, said his decades of work and public service -- he was a career federal employee and served on the Fairfax County School Board -- have given him crucial experience that Craddock lacks.
"You want somebody that's going to hit the ground running in Richmond as opposed to somebody who's going to need on-the-job training," he said.
Caputo said he would make extending Metrorail to Dulles International Airport a priority and, like Craddock, secure transportation funding with rental car and auto insurance taxes. He also supports public-private partnerships for some road projects.
Caputo has pledged to use state money to reduce class sizes, increase teacher salaries and expand student capacity at colleges.
Caputo said Craddock's no-tax vows are impractical, but he also insists that taxes are not the only answer. He said he would work across party lines on spending and find non-tax alternatives, such as tolls for nonresidents driving through the state, he said.
Eby, 49, is a software manager and a leader in the local Libertarian Party. He wants to repeal the 2004 tax increase and shrink government and said he would push for a "taxpayers' bill of rights," which would return state revenue to taxpayers if it exceeds predicted growth.
He backs school vouchers, which he said would cost taxpayers less and force school improvement through competition, and said he would promote public-private transportation projects like the Dulles Greenway.
Eby acknowledged that as a third-party candidate he lacks a built-in base -- and major donors. "I believe I have a better message than they do," he said of his opponents. "If [voters] really give all three candidates equal consideration, they will vote for me."