- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

Commuters on Route 123 in McLean may have been wondering what the brain trust at Virginia Department of Transportation was thinking.

Drivers heading north on the road the last two days may have seen the portable electronic variable message board the orange kind road crews use to warn of lane closures on the side of the road, near Interstate 66. But this one had a different sort of information.

"Allen was governor," the message reads, before changing to "Expect delays."

It's just the latest use of money by the state Democratic Party on behalf of U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, who is fighting for his seat against former Gov. George F. Allen, his Republican challenger.

The two state parties aided generously by their national senatorial campaign committees have each put up about $5 million of advertisements on behalf of their candidates. And that's in addition to the independent expenditures by special-interest groups, and the two campaigns themselves. All told, it could be a $30 million race.

Some drivers were shocked to see the sign, thinking it came from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

But a VDOT spokeswoman said it's not the transportation agency's message, it's not one of its signs, and it's not on VDOT property, so it's perfectly legal.

She did say VDOT received calls wondering about the sign from motorists.

"We wanted to do something that was eye-catching," said Craig Bieber, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "Certainly, it caught [drivers'] attention."

In the battle for votes, the two parties have been instrumental, both in the "ground war" of volunteers and signs and mailings and in the "air war" of television ads.

The Democratic Party has created 11 television ads to the Republican Party's eight. Each of those Republican advertising buys runs between $500,000 and $750,000, while some of the Democrats' buys are targeted to a particular region, and therefore, are much less expensive.

Democrats are calling attention to one of the state Republicans' other ground-war efforts a mailing sent to voters in Northern Virginia that criticizes Mr. Robb's record on transportation. Only the full-page photo it uses to show traffic gridlock seems to be of a California freeway.

Stranger still, it seems to be the exact photo Republicans criticized state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, for using in a campaign mailing last year.

Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state GOP, said he doesn't know where the photo is from, but that it doesn't matter anyway. The point, he said, is to call attention to Mr. Robb's record on transportation.

"Is there any question that we have scenes like this every day in Northern Virginia? Is the picture misleading when it tries to describe Northern Virginia traffic?" he asked, adding that the danger in taking a new photo is that it could be an invasion of privacy and could prompt a lawsuit from someone in the photo.

So campaigns often resort to "stock" photos, ones already vetted by ad companies.

The parties' involvement doesn't mean the campaigns aren't doing anything themselves.

Federal Election Commission data submitted in the middle of this month, and covering through Sept. 30, show Mr. Allen has taken in almost $8.6 million and Mr. Robb about $5.1 million.

But the data also show that where the candidates are getting the money from differs greatly.

For Mr. Allen, almost 80 percent of his transactions from individual contributors giving at least $200 came from Virginia. For Mr. Robb, more than 60 percent of his money from big donors came from outside the state.

Mr. Robb received more donations from individual contributors in Washington than any other locality. New York was second, and McLean, at third on the list, is the first Virginia locale. Nine of the top 15 cities are out of state.

Only two of the top 15 places where Mr. Allen's contributors live are outside Virginia. Washington is fifth, and New York is 13th.

Mr. Robb does have more contributions from political action committees, though $1.33 million to Mr. Allen's $1.15 million take.

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