- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

WINCHESTER, Va. The more Mark L. Earley talked, the more the Republicans clustered in front of Bartley's Shoe Repair warmed to him, nodding assent and clapping ever louder at his applause lines.
It was more like a jury affirming the reasoned arguments and smooth oration of a seasoned courtroom lawyer than a political rally in a tight governor's race.
Then Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, campaigning with his old friend on a crisp fall afternoon, stepped forward. Almost instantly, the event took on the air of a halftime pep talk as Mr. Allen evoked throaty cheers with exhortations: "Keep fighting. Stay strong. On to victory."
The difference was stark: Mr. Allen, the fiery coach reminiscent of his legendary namesake father; Mr. Earley, the even-tempered team captain.
The store owner, second-generation cobbler P.L. "Bob" Bartley, has been an Allen fan since Mr. Allen brought his own campaign for governor he called it an insurgency to Winchester eight years ago and got his boots touched up at Bartley's. Mr. Allen's been back time after time, but this was Mr. Earley's first pilgrimage, and Mr. Bartley sized him up fast.
"I like Mr. Earley. He's a good man, and all the things he's saying are the things we need right now," Mr. Bartley said. "George certainly has a lot of character not that Mr. Earley doesn't. He's just a little more laid back."
Like Mr. Allen, Mr. Earley wears pointy-toed cowboy boots almost exclusively. Like Mr. Allen, he has a rock-solid base of conservative followers who adore him for strong stands against abortion and taxes, and for tougher criminal penalties and requiring work of able welfare recipients.
Unlike Mr. Allen, whose combative come-from-behind election in 1993 ended three consecutive Democratic gubernatorial terms, you'll never hear Knute Rockne-style rhetoric from Mr. Earley, whose political stock in trade has been his calm demeanor and quiet affability.
It was a trait that served him well through a decade in the state Senate, where he forged a reputation as a conservative Republican who would hold his ground on issues such as abortion restrictions and welfare reform, but compromise with Democrats on other matters.
"You always could approach Mark, and he could always approach me, and I could pick up the phone and talk to him when he was attorney general, too," said state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, Richmond Democrat.
"We always had a good relationship, even though he didn't always vote the way I'd have wanted him to," Mr. Lambert said.
He has a relaxed manner and a natural, dry wit before audiences, and an unforced amiability as he trolls sidewalks, malls and fairs, shaking one hand after another.
"Hey, man, how ya doing? I'm Mark Earley. I'd appreciate your vote," Mr. Earley said last month to hundreds of people, even those wearing Warner stickers, as he ambled down the route of Buena Vista's Labor Day parade.
He flashes a broad smile and his eyes lock on for a fleeting moment, then he moves on.
Little rattles or angers him. One reason for that, he says, is that politics can present few challenges as important as raising his six children. That's why he begrudges long campaign days that keep him away from the children and his wife, Cynthia, at night.
"Another thing that helps me is 10 years in the Senate and 31/2 as attorney general, where you deal with a lot of issues across a broad spectrum," Mr. Earley said. "I tend to know how I feel on certain issues. I don't have to keep figuring out where I stand."
Amid the uncertainty lingering after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Mr. Earley hopes his steady hand and years of government service appeal to voters more than Mr. Warner's business success and abundant nervous energy.
Mr. Earley can seem dispassionate even as he goes after Mr. Warner, claiming the Democrat is stealthily plotting a $900 million tax increase, accusing him of opposing popular Republican reforms such as parole abolition and welfare reform years ago and trying to hide it now.
Sometimes, however, a little passion and flash are good things, and trying to transfuse it from larger-than-life figures like Mr. Allen is tricky, said Robert Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Mr. Allen, and two other Virginia Republicans, Sen. John W. Warner and Gov. James S. Gilmore III, are commonplace in Earley television ads and mailings.
"The downside is the possibility that voters think the candidate looks weak campaigning next to these superstars," Mr. Holsworth said. "Mark Earley doesn't even look like the star of his own ads."

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