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Potshots in Political Mailings

Mailboxes in Fairfax County are being clogged with political mailings from candidates running for the Nov. 8 election.

While presenting a bill before the House of Delegates in early February, Del. David Albo (R-42) did his best "Dr. Evil" impression.

The bill, HB 1563, would have imposed fees on motorists convicted of driving offenses, including reckless driving, driving under the influence and more. Albo, who co-sponsored the bill with Del. Tom Rust (R-86), put his pinky to his mouth and informed his colleagues the measure would fund transportation projects by raising as much as "$188 meee-llion dollars."

Albo had no idea that someone in the audience snapped his picture until a photo of his "Dr. Evil" impression turned up in a campaign mailing by Albo's challenger, Democrat Greg Werkheiser.

"Isn't it hilarious?" Albo chuckled recently. "The funny part is that nobody in the House of Delegates had ever heard of Dr. Evil. Apparently they hadn't seen Austin Powers."

The Albo photo has been featured prominently in a series of Werkheiser mailings titled "Planet Albo: A Little Bit Out There," which include arguably unflattering Albo quotes such as "Fairfax County definitely gets its fair share of transportation dollars."

The "Planet Albo" mailings are just the tip of the tip of the political iceberg this campaign season. With just a few weeks remaining before the Nov. 8 election, candidates for the House of Delegates are clogging voters' mailboxes with campaign mailings.

Headed into the final stretch of the campaigns, Fairfax County's 35 candidates for the House of Delegates have spent more than $548,000 on campaign mailings.

Republicans have spent the most, with $276,000 put toward direct mail and postage, while Democrats are trailing, having spent slightly more than $255,000, according to the non-profit Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks campaign finance in Virginia.

CREATING AN EFFECTIVE direct mail campaign is considered an art among political experts, requiring just the right mix of photos, choice quotes and pointed barbs.

"Mailings reinforce party loyalty," said Toni-Michelle Travis, a government and politics professor at George Mason University. "They keep [the candidate's] name and party in front of you. It's personalized. It comes right to you in your mailbox."

Mailers can portray a candidate in the best light possible, while simultaneously framing an opponent as a terrible choice.

One such mailing was created by Republican Chris Craddock in the House of Delegates race for the 67th District, which includes Chantilly and surrounding neighborhoods.

On one half of the mailer, colored white, it features a nice color photo of Craddock alongside the message that he wants to lower taxes and return a $500 tax refund to Northern Virginia residents.

On the other half, which is colored black, a distorted blurry photo of the Democrat in the race, Chuck Caputo, is shown next to the assertion that he would increase taxes by nearly $8,000 per family.

The source provided for the tax hike allegation was a private speech Caputo gave to Democrats in July, in which he outlined his wish list needs he believes the state should fully fund, including education and transportation. A member of Craddock's campaign in the audience secretly tape-recorded the speech.

"If I'd known that guy was there, I'd have kicked him out," said Del. Ken Plum (D-36), who hosted the forum.

The Craddock campaign used the recording to add-up the cost of all the wish list investments Caputo thought would benefit Virginia and portrayed it as the Democrat's actual platform.

POLITICAL MAILINGS can sometimes take on a life of their own, generating controversy and becoming a true campaign issue.

In the 39th District, which includes Springfield and Annandale, Del. Vivian Watts (D) sent out a mailing that touted her three decades of public service and said "Vivian Watts: Delegate, community leader and one of our own."

Watts' challenger, Republican Michael Meunier, sent out a press release decrying racism and demanding an apology. Meunier, who was born in Egypt, charged that Watts was insulting him by saying he is not "one of our own."

Watts shrugged off the criticism, pointing out that the theme of her being plugged into the community has recurred through her 22 years of re-election campaigns.

"I'm sad he put out something like that," she said. "My roots in the community are extensive. It had nothing to do with race."

In the press release, Meunier said, "Mrs. Watts may deny it, but referring to herself as 'One of our own,' is a clear slam against me and every immigrant in Northern Virginia. She is clearly trying to play the race card and the anti-immigrant card. She ought to be ashamed."

NOT EVERY PIECE OF campaign mail is particularly partisan or controversial. Sometimes the only purpose of a mailer is to convey a candidate's platform, but spun in a favorable manner.

Another mailing by Werkheiser in the 42nd District, which includes Laurel Hill and West Springfield, laid out his entire platform, key endorsements, photos of him with Gov. Mark Warner (D) and more.

"Every political consultant will tell you to be as vague as possible with your mailers," Werkheiser said. "With this, we just threw all that out the window. We crammed as much as we could onto this thing."

The mailing, titled "The Blueprint for Progress," is an oversized document that looks like architectural blueprints. Werkheiser's campaign rolled 16,000 copies of the mailing into cardboard tubes and mailed them to likely voters.

In all, Werkheiser's campaign has spent $11,444 on political mailings, while Albo has spent $61,190, according to VPAP.