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Votes

Down to the Wire In 67th District

With less than a week to go before the election, things continue to heat up in the race for 67th District delegate.

Democrat Chuck Caputo and Republican Chris Craddock are taking potshots at each other, and the community is still abuzz about Craddock's recent comments about gays and Africans.

"MR. CRADDOCK has made his comments, and I'm sure he stands by them," said Eric Lundberg, chairman of the Fairfax County GOP. "You can't unring a bell. He's not articulating a party position, one way or the other."

Noting that Fairfax County has a wide variety of orientations, ethnic groups and political views, he said Craddock is free to express his own views "and then the voters can have the final say on election day."

"But that's why we have the public square," said Lundberg. "He'll have to press forward with the issues of the day and with his campaign, in the context of those statements."

Bob Carlson, chairman of the Sully District Republican Committee, said it's "hard to say" how Craddock's remarks to an AP government class at Westfield High will affect the election. "You never know how people are going to react to these sorts of things."

Carlson said the party is seeking out people who voted for President Bush last time and are likely to vote Republican this time, too. "We're focusing on finding out where the Republicans are and urging them to vote."

However, Del. Gary Reese (R-67th) who lost to Craddock in the Republican primary and holds that title until January, doesn't believe that Craddock necessarily has a lock on the district's votes. Reese is a staunch, lifelong Republican. Yet he recently swung his own support to the Democratic Caputo and away from the ultra-conservative Craddock. And he believes others will do likewise.

"The last time I got a similar sensation was in the Reagan-Carter [presidential] race," said Reese. "You get the sensation that the great middle is moving. It moved then for Reagan — it's moving now against Craddock and in favor of Caputo and, at this point, there's nothing he can do about it. People are telling me, 'Gary, you came out in favor of Caputo and we are, too.’"

Said Reese: "When Craddock came out with the position that a student should be able to bring a loaded gun to school, that did it for me." Craddock, however, says the Caputo campaign is falsely attributing this position to him.

"What I want is for school security guards to be able to be armed to combat gang violence and prevent Columbine-style shootings in our schools," he said.

On Tuesday, Craddock's campaign labeled Caputo's campaign attack tactics against him "bizarre" and "desperate." Craddock said desperate candidates do these things "when they can't win on the issues." And he believes he's the one with the support of the constituents.

"I've been talking to voters about the issues and the differences that exist between Chuck Caputo and I on those issues," said Craddock. "And we're winning voter support, left and right. The more Caputo says about issues, the more voters don't like what they hear."

But, saying "Chuck's a good man and he'll do a good job," Reese believes the savvy residents of the 67th District should be aware of the consequences if Craddock becomes their state delegate. "He's not going to vote for any increases in public-education funding," said Reese.

Craddock says he's not anti-public education and that, "When I talk about fighting to make sure Northern Virginia gets its fair share of taxes, voters tell me, 'It's about time we had somebody stand up for us.'"

Nonetheless, Craddock's position on education funding bothers Reese. "I believe that Chris Craddock and the people around him are clear and present dangers to us in the 67th District and to Virginia," he said. "If they had their way, none of our schools here would have gotten built."

Pleasant Valley's Stephine Lacey said she'll still vote for Craddock "despite his misspeaking" at Westfield because she agrees with his views on taxes, the budget and moral issues. However, she said he "needs to exercise more discretion when speaking [and] think before he speaks."

Phillip Stutts, Craddock's campaign spokesman, said Craddock will stay focused on the issues that matter most to Northern Virginians, "like less traffic and better education." Stutts contends that Caputo "lacks the ideas that need to be talked about in this campaign."

But Joe Lestingi, Caputo's campaign manager, says "Craddock and his reckless and risky ideas make him completely unfit to serve as delegate. He'd do nothing more than the bidding of his extremist mentors. Voters must reject Chris Craddock."

Actually, Sully GOP head Carlson expects "a fairly low turnout because it's a state election. Traditionally, they have half or less the turnout of a presidential election. It's usually about 60-65 percent for a presidential race and 30-35 percent for a gubernatorial race."

The race for 67th District delegate is a close one, he said. And when it comes right down to it, "It's going to depend on who can get their supporters to the polls."