As summer heats up, the race for the 42nd District seat in the House of Delegates has attracted plenty of attention — and money.
At the end of the July 15 filing deadline for campaign finance activity, incumbent Dave Albo (R) and challenger Greg Werkheiser (D) had raised a combined $530,182, the highest total of any House of Delegates race in the state. It's an indication that while Albo has the clout, raising the third-most money of any candidate, Werkheiser has enough support to make things interesting.
"I think Werkheiser must have made a decision that Albo was vulnerable and he's going after that seat aggressively," said Toni-Michelle Travis, associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.
Albo, who is seeking his seventh term in Richmond, has raised $284, 884, with a total of $204,056 on hand. His contributions rank him third state-wide, behind Dick Black (R-32) and Joe May (R-33).
Albo attributed his large coffers to a broad base of support among both individuals and businesses.
"I've always been supported fairly heavily by the constituents in my district because I grew up here," said Albo, who acknowledged that Werkheiser's contributions were substantial, but not as broadly spread as his own.
"Because he has five extraordinarily rich, very good friends, it basically raises the stakes," Albo said. "In order for me to defend myself, I have to raise a lot of money to be able to defend my record."
According to the Virginia Political Action Project, Werkheiser has raised $245,298 to date, much of it from major cash donations from several Northern Virginia residents. Suzann Matthews of McLean has made donations totaling $33,795, and Vienna resident Suchada Langley has contributed $11,199. Werkheiser's second-highest donor is One Virginia PAC, Gov. Mark Warner (D)'s political action committee.
"It's confirmation that the kind of leadership people are hungry for in this district is moderate, bipartisan and courageous," said Werkheiser. "I've worked with and for Governor Warner for many years. We feel the same way about what kind of moderate majority needs to lead Virginia in the future, and I think Warner's support means he views me as closest to that theory. He views that I can further the legacy of leadership he's established."
Travis said the amount of support Werkheiser has raised is an indication of his commitment to the campaign.
"My impression is that Werkheiser really strategized on how to build that campaign war chest," she said. "He realized he had to work at getting that early money in and keep getting it in, to unseat an incumbent, that he's really thought about it, to pull it off.
"I think that's what it takes, and previously Democrats hadn't thought that way."
Travis likened Werkheiser's approach to that of former Del. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D), who recently chose not to seek re-election to his 37th District seat, in which he served for two terms. Instead, Petersen sought his party's nomination in the lieutenant governor's race, but lost to fellow Northern Virginian Leslie Byrne in June 2005 primary.
"Chap Petersen and Werkheiser, I would say, are this new, aggressive, charismatic, planning group," said Travis.
Ginny Peters, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee said she is not surprised at the support raised by Werkheiser.
"He has lots and lots of good people doing lots and lots of door to door and phone calling," she said. "Knowing Greg, it's not at all surprising, and knowing his story. He's so enthusiastic, he just brings people along. You can't help but like him and want to support him and want to work for him."
Albo, who ran unopposed in the 2003 election, is set to take over as chair of the high-profile Courts and Justice Committee in the House.
"I think Chairman-to-be Dave Albo is running an outstanding race," said Eric Lundberg, chair of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. "The Democrats realize that once he is a chairman it will be next to impossible to take him out. He's running an aggressive campaign, he's out there knocking on doors, and I think there's every reason to believe he'll be successful. I think the Democrats are choosing to waste a lot of money in the 42nd District."
Albo's substantial coffers have been filled from a variety of organizations, ranging from $25,000 from the Dominion Leadership Trust to $6,500 from the Virginia Trial Lawyer's Association, and $6,000 from the Virginia Medical Society.
Peters said a Werkheiser victory would be "a big upset."
"I'm very optimistic because Greg is working very, very hard, but we realize we're bucking out a 12-year incumbent. It's going to be a tough fight," she said.
The bottom line, according to Travis, would be the response of Albo's core constituents to the hard-charging Werkheiser.
"(Albo) has a conservative base that's been reliable. He hasn't switched," she said. "It's an assessment of that core base. Can (Werkheiser) make inroads into it, or have enough people moved into the district who might now hold those (conservative) values?"