- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

The Northern Virginia Senate contest between incumbent Ken Cuccinelli and Janet Oleszek is shaping up as a bellwether race for Republicans hoping to preserve their four-seat majority.

“It’s pretty much the poster child for the conservative versus the liberal,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “He is certainly the conservative’s conservative, and Janet is the liberal’s liberal.”

The race, in which the candidates are nearing a combined $1 million in campaign funds raised, is a priority for both parties in the Nov. 6 election, when all 140 General Assembly seats are up for grabs.

Sandwiched in western Fairfax County between the Democrat-trending Beltway to the east and more Republican-friendly areas to the west, the 37th District should be a barometer for just how much the region has shifted politically.

“We’ll know after the election,” said James Parmelee, Republicans United for Tax Relief president. “The question is: Are the people moving into the district similar to the people already there? Are Republicans moving to western Fairfax or Democrats moving to western Fairfax?”

The district’s voting record suggests a mixed electorate. It supported Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, in 2005. Last year, it supported Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat, but also approved a Republican-driven constitutional amendment barring same-sex “marriage.”

“We are not Arlington,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “The district basically has gone from being a slight-leaning Republican district, to more of a swing district or a slight-leaning Democratic. It is hard to tell whether it is a real change or a mood shift. I think it is a mood shift because people are upset with Washington Republicans and people are upset about the war. Some people are going to take that out on me. That’s just a reality.”

The shift leaves Democrats optimistic that the influx of new voters, President Bush’s dismal poll numbers and the public outcry over the “abuser fees” now imposed with some traffic offenses on Virginia drivers will help knock off Mr. Cuccinelli and put them one seat closer to the four they need to win to control of the Senate.

Mrs. Oleszek, a Fairfax County school board member, has said Mr. Cuccinelli is “kooky” and too far “out of the mainstream.” Mr. Cuccinelli said that his record has been distorted and that by being negative, Mrs. Oleszek has shown she has little to offer.

“Can you run for office and not take solid positions on anything?” Mr. Cuccinelli wrote this week in an e-mail to supporters. “That seems to be the Oleszek Grand Plan.”

While some incumbents have distanced themselves from the Republican brand, Mr. Cuccinelli has touted his conservative credentials, and explained why this year he cast a vote that allowed the multibillion-dollar transportation package to survive the Senate.

Mr. Cuccinelli defended the vote, saying the deal allowed Northern Virginia to keep more of the money — in this case up to $400 million — it raises, a goal that has been hampered by an unwillingness among lawmakers across the state to change Virginia’s transportation funding formula.

The compromise drew ire from some conservatives upset with the tax-laden package, but it gave him a “platform for saying I am as conservative as I ever was, but I am also someone who wants to solve problems,” Republican strategist J. Scott Leake said.

Mindful of the demographic changes that delivered the district for Democrats in recent years, Mrs. Oleszek, who said she would have opposed the transportation deal, has positioned herself as the anti-gun, pro-choice, pro-environment candidate.

“There could not be a clearer distinction between Ken and me on reproductive rights,” she said in a televised debate Monday. “The decision to have an abortion is entirely in the province of the woman, her doctor and her God.”

Mr. Cuccinelli is pro-life, opposes partial-birth abortion and says Mrs. Oleszek’s charge that he wants to arrest women who undergo the procedure is a lie. He also calls for health and safety improvements at abortion clinics, supports adult stem-cell research and opposes amnesty for illegal aliens.

Mr. Cuccinelli also has tried to expose what he says are his opponent’s “unbelievable” liberal views.

In the debate Monday, Mr. Cuccinelli asked Mrs. Oleszek whether she would pursue a resolution she supported as a school board member that called on the legislature to allow the county to raise the local income tax for schools.

“That’s a red herring, Mr. Cuccinelli, and you know it,” she said.

Mr. Cuccinelli accused her of ducking the question.

“You voted three times to ask for the institution of an income tax,” he said. “Now if you win this race you will be able to do it, and you won’t tell us whether you will pursue that and how much you expect that income tax to be.”

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