- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

The two candidates in the race for the 32nd District seat in the Virginia Senate were campaigning door-to-door yesterday, personally making the case for their candidacies with eight days remaining in a contest that has become one of the state’s most bitter and expensive this year.

Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat who has been accused by her rival of doing nothing to fix traffic and school problems in her 12 years in office, knocked on doors in the Reston area, introduced herself as “your senator” and handed out campaign flyers listing her accomplishments in the Senate.

Mrs. Howell’s visits with voters were brief and cheerful in the Indian Ridge cluster, where town homes cost about $200,000. She often joked and laughed with her constituents, but she stressed that she is available to serve them.

“If you have any questions or there is anything I can do for you, call me,” she told one woman, handing the woman a magnetic card with her name and district office phone number on it.

A couple of miles away, Republican nominee Dave Hunt was making the case for change. “I’m working real hard to alleviate our traffic mess. We’ve suffered too long,” he told 21-year-old Katherine Nguyen, a George Mason University student who answered the door in a neighborhood of $400,000 homes near Herndon.

“I have a big mouth, and I will work really hard down in Richmond,” said Mr. Hunt, who owns and operates Landon Stark Cantwell and Paxton, a patent and trademark research firm in the Crystal City area of Arlington.

Mr. Hunt, who has mortgaged his home in Great Falls to put $184,615 into his campaign, has criticized Mrs. Howell for being too cozy with developers, pushing for higher taxes on families and taking no action on transportation issues. He said Mrs. Howell has not drafted a single major transportation bill in 12 years.

Mr. Hunt also accused her of lying about her record to hide her inaction in Richmond.

“She is flat-out dishonest on transportation,” Mr. Hunt said yesterday. “I’m an Eagle Scout. I do not tell lies.”

Mrs. Howell said her challenger has distorted her record. She points to an amendment she added to the 2003 budget bill that provided $2.2 million of Dulles Toll Road revenue to renovate and expand the Dulles Toll Road Administration Building.

Mr. Hunt countered that the administration building has nothing to do with improving traffic congestion. But Mrs. Howell produced a letter from Transportation Secretary Whittington W. Clement that said the new facility will make it possible to integrate Virginia’s SMART Pass toll-paying system with the multistate E-Z Pass system.

Mr. Hunt “is misleading about both of us,” Mrs. Howell said. “He’s misrepresenting what I’ve done and exaggerating what he’s done.”

She also blamed him for driving up the price of the campaign, which has become the second-most-expensive in Virginia this year. Mrs. Howell has raised about $346,000, including $11,000 from fellow Democrat Gov. Mark Warner. Mr. Hunt has raised about $280,000.

Nevertheless, neither campaign can afford to air television adds outside the relatively inexpensive local cable-TV system in Reston. So they resort to appearances at candidate forums, direct mail, roadside signs and door-to-door campaigning.

Mrs. Howell said that Mr. Hunt, who has been actively campaigning for 20 months, refused her offer early in the campaign to limit the number of roadside signs — the dominant and most costly campaign tool in Northern Virginia.

While Mrs. Howell criticized Mr. Hunt for trying to buy the election with his own money, Mr. Hunt shuns his rival for taking most of her money from outside the district and from special-interest groups, such as the development community.

Mrs. Howell dismissed the special-interest ties.

“I win because moderate Republicans vote for me and that has always been the secret of my success,” Mrs. Howell said. “With [Mr. Hunts] far-right social agenda, I think the moderate Republicans will continue to go with me.” She said that Mr. Hunt supports closing 15 of the state’s 16 abortion clinics.

Mr. Hunt said Mrs. Howell had seized on social issues in an attempt to scare voters. He said Mrs. Howell’s own positions on social issues were out of step with the mainstream of Virginia’s Democratic Party.

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