Even after lines were redrawn following the 2000 Census, the 38th House District has remained reliably Democratic.
Del. Robert D. "Bob" Hull, who has represented the district for a dozen years, beat his Republican challenger in 2001 with 59 percent of the vote. In 2003, no candidate even tried to unseat him.
This year, Hull again has a GOP challenger -- space tourism entrepreneur B. Leland Cheung -- but the race has been very quiet.
The candidates have had no joint appearances or debates. Cheung did not participate in several recent campaign forums that Hull attended, including ones put on by retired federal workers, a civic group and a synagogue. As of Sept. 30, Hull had raised $54,000 and spent all but $800 of that, in part by making large contributions to help other Democrats in more competitive races. Cheung has raised $3,700 and said he has emphasized door-to-door campaigning.
Hull is a real estate agent, and the real estate and construction industry has been his biggest donor, accounting for $17,300 of his contributions, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. He said he has sought out moderate ground on key issues such as transportation, education and taxes.
"I think of a big river, and you're in some kind of boat. I try to stick to the center of the river, where the current is not as choppy," Hull said. He learned quickly in Richmond that younger "firebrand" members are often quick to offer "brash statements" but end up alienating potential allies. "You realize that doesn't get you very far," Hull said.
Hull said he works well with legislators from other parts of the state who are often viewed as competitors for scarce resources but share many of the same problems.
Cheung works for Space Adventures Ltd., a firm that reached an agreement with the Russian government enabling private citizens to pay top dollar to go to space. He said his business experience and training as an engineer position him to help lead Virginia's high-tech economy, and to help students acquire "the tools they need to reach for the stars."
He said that if he is elected he will write a daily blog, or Web diary, charting his votes in Richmond to help make government more transparent to constituents. "I'm going to make my reasons known and my thinking known, not only so they can understand it but so they can call me out if they think something I did isn't right," he said.
The two disagree on some tax questions.
Hull supports a 5.5-cent increase in the gas tax to pay for road maintenance. The growing costs of fixing roads are eating away at the state's ability to build new ones, he said, adding that raising the tax would keep Virginia in line with what neighboring states charge. The tax hasn't been increased in nearly two decades, he said.
Cheung opposes the increase. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize we're currently being overtaxed," he said, citing the state's large budget surplus.
Hull cited his support for tax changes under Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), which included increases to buttress education funding but also income tax cuts for those earning the least.
Hull has also called for counties to have the same taxing power as cities -- power that he said could be used to offset soaring property taxes. If counties such as Fairfax had more authority, Hull argued, they could reduce homeowners' tax burdens.
Counties could also just spend the added money, which worries opponents.
"I can't even get that out of committee. You've got so many anti-tax people down there," said Hull, a member of the House Finance Committee. "They don't want to have anything to do with it. It's hurting counties, frankly."
Cheung said he's not sure the issue is important to political leaders in the district, though he would consider it. On transportation funding, he said he advocates low-cost ideas such as high-occupancy and toll lanes, more efficient bus systems and better timing of stop lights. He supports reinstating Virginia's red-light camera enforcement program, an idea he's heard from voters who live on busy streets.
Cheung said he's knocked on doors for months, but his effort has not been all he had hoped for. "I really haven't had the time to dedicate to the campaign and to do the things I wanted to do," he said. "I had no idea the amount of work I was getting myself into."
C.W. "Levi" Levy, who has run for office numerous times in the past -- often in multiple races -- is also seeking the seat. He is on the ballot as a Green Party independent.