- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

The mud is flying in the Democratic primary for a Northern Virginia state Senate seat thought to be safe - drawing cash and attention to an intraparty fight as Republicans plot to take the state’s upper chamber in the fall.

The race between Arlington County board member Barbara Favola and Jaime Areizaga-Soto to replace retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple in a section of the state that has touted itself as a model of clean, green living has quickly descended into a nasty back-and-forth.

Among the allegations, Mr. Areizaga-Soto’s campaign has accused Mrs. Favola of violating the county code of ethics for accepting $2,500 from a towing company days before a vote to increase towing rates - a charge Mrs. Favola strongly denies.

“I have never sold my vote - ever,” Mrs. Favola said. “I have an independent vote. And I have a strong vote for my county.”

Her campaign has said that the vote was recommended by a citizens advisory board.

Each campaign has posted “truth” websites detailing charges against the other candidate.

Mrs. Favola’s camp accuses Mr. Areizaga-Soto of putting “profits ahead of people and our environment” because of his work earlier in his career with a corporate law firm and calls on Mr. Areizaga-Soto to disclose the clients he’s had.

“It is a sign of desperation of the campaign of Barbara to try to attack me for something I was not directly involved in and something invoking my work as a junior attorney back in the mid-‘90s,” said Mr. Areizaga-Soto. “I have never been involved in anything but promoting social, environmental, and economic development my whole life, and that is the truth.”

Delegate Bob Brink, Arlington Democrat, was planning to stay neutral in the race, but has endorsed Mrs. Favola, citing the stridently negative tone taken by the Areizaga-Soto campaign.

“Thirty-first District Democrats need to focus on the November election - retaining the seat for the Democrats is very important, and that’s where we need to supply our energy and resources,” Mr. Brink said.

Some Democrats are grumbling that party leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw and Mrs. Whipple, who is chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, are putting money into a primary that should be a safe seat for the party as it fights to preserve a tenuous 22-18 majority in their last bastion of power in the state. Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, has given $17,000 to Mrs. Favola’s campaign, and Mrs. Whipple has donated $15,000.

Still, it’s a seat that Democrats do not expect to lose, and one that remains a long shot for GOP candidate Caren Merrick, who is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.

“The truth is that no Republican has won that combination of precincts in 25 years,” said Shayna Englin, who is consulting for the Areizaga-Soto campaign and is the wife of Delegate David Englin, Alexandria Democrat. “The 31st is going to go Democratic.”

Others disagree.

“It certainly seems noisy,” said Jeff Ryer, a spokesman for the State Senate Republican Caucus. The district also was expanded to include parts of Loudoun County during this year’s once-a-decade redistricting process and added a number of Republican-leaning precincts.

“Quite frankly, Caren Merrick is one of our best candidates, and we’re excited about our prospects in that seat. We think that that’s likely to be a competitive seat in the fall,” Mr. Ryer said. “It definitely bears watching.”

Mrs. Merrick, meanwhile, who co-founded the software company webMethods - sold to a German company in 2005 for $546 million - says she is tuning out the noise and focusing on her own campaign. She had $153,000 on hand as of June 30, compared with $112,909 for Mrs. Favola and $41,137 for Mr. Areizaga-Soto. Mr. Areizaga-Soto loaned himself $160,000 as part of nearly $234,000 he brought in during the second quarter this year.

“I’m knocking on doors every day, and I’m listening to what people from all walks of life are telling me, and it’s fairly consistent,” Mrs. Merrick said. “Obviously, we’re talking a lot about jobs and the economy.”

“One piece of advice I got was, don’t focus on the negative things,” she said. “And I don’t. I just can’t afford to.”

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