- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The campaign to replace retired state Sen. Warren E. Barry of Fairfax is intensifying in its final 10 days, with party luminaries raising cash and the candidates arguing over how and when to debate.

Virginia Democrats are pulling out all the stops for Cathy Belter, a Fairfax County School Board member who is trying to win the seat vacated by Mr. Barry, a Republican.

State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, the Senate's Democratic leader, hosted a fund-raiser for her on Wednesday night with Gov. Mark R. Warner making an appearance. The event was expected to bring in between $50,000 and $75,000. Another fund-raiser was scheduled for last night with Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine.

Centreville lawyer Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican nominee in the Aug. 6 special election.

Mr. Barry resigned in early June to take a post in Mr. Warner's administration.

Many observers say the race for Mr. Barry's seat could be a preview of the fall battle between the forces supporting and opposing a sales-tax-increase referendum.

Mrs. Belter has pledged support of Mr. Warner's transportation referendum, which will ask voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions to vote on increasing the sales tax by half a percent in order to fund area transportation initiatives. Mr. Cuccinelli opposes the referendum and is actively campaigning against it.

Meanwhile, the candidates have had trouble setting a debate.

Mr. Cuccinelli has asked Mrs. Belter several times this week to agree to a debate format so the two candidates can air their differences before the general election. So, far, however, Mrs. Belter has declined. A spokeswoman for her campaign said they are still reviewing their options.

The candidates have exchanged barbs via e-mail as they try to establish a format for a debate, with each campaign claiming it is difficult to get the other on the phone.

"We realize that you have only recently been hired by Mr. Cuccinelli and may not be aware of all of his past statements and positions on issues of concern to the voters," Pat Carroll, spokeswoman for Mrs. Belter, wrote to Ken Hutcheson, a campaign aide to Mr. Cuccinelli. Mr. Hutcheson had written the Belter campaign about what he considered inaccuracies in a Belter flier and about establishing a debate format.

"Thank you for your artful yet obvious dodging answer to my challenge that Mrs. Belter produce documentation," Mr. Hutcheson replied in an e-mail that was sent to Mrs. Belter's campaign, as well as to area reporters.

"This leads to a bigger question, however, why does Mrs. Belter refuse to debate Ken on the issues? Why have you all chosen to hide behind slick mailers full of distortions and cable-TV ads?" the e-mail reads.

Mrs. Belter's campaign says a debate will be held at some point before the election.

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