Speaking before a Westfield High School lecture hall packed with supporters, the three candidates running in the 67th District race for the House of Delegates clashed Thursday evening in an emotional and rowdy debate.
The debate — between Republican Chris Craddock, 27, Democrat Chuck Caputo, 67, and Libertarian Chuck Eby, 49 — was the first meeting of all three candidates vying to replace Del. Gary Reese (R) in the General Assembly on Nov. 8.
Just prior to the debate, Reese announced to a throng of Caputo supporters that he was breaking ranks with his party and backing the Democrat in the race.
Craddock, who unseated Reese in the June 14 primary, is part of the "extremist wing" of the Republican Party that seeks to destroy public education, ban abortion and impose a strict and intolerant agenda on Virginia citizens, Reese said.
"I believe that Mr. Craddock and the people around him present a clear and present danger to the people of the 67th District," he said. "For 14 years, I tried to keep the wolf from the door. Well, the wolf is at the door folks. And for that I am sorry."
Craddock has said he decided to run because Reese voted for the $1.34 billion sales tax increase in 2004 that increased state spending on education, public safety and human services.
If elected, Craddock said he is the candidate who would most effectively represent the 67th District by working toward lower taxes.
"We need to hold the line on taxes or we're going to get run over," he said.
MORE THAN 250 citizens from Chantilly, Oak Hill, Loudoun and elsewhere attended the raucous debate Thursday. Caputo supporters, most wearing blue shirts, filled the front of the lecture hall. Craddock's backers, most wearing red shirts, stuck together in the back half of the room.
While the candidates spoke, supporters from both sides would frequently jeer and laugh derisively. During a few exchanges, members of the audience yelled "Liar!" and "Tell the truth!"
Tempers flared to such an extent Thursday, that even the debate's time keeper told a Caputo supporter to, "Shut your f---ing mouth!"
Craddock was visibly flustered at one point, when he was asked if he supports a ban on "partial-birth abortion." Craddock started his response by saying, "I believe that liberty starts with the protection of life — for the elderly, the infirm and the unborn."
But then Craddock began to describe the process of late-term abortion in graphic detail — including the act of sucking out a baby's brain.
Craddock's response was drowned out by Caputo supporters' cries of disgust and protestations of poor taste.
At another point, Caputo was shouted down by Craddock supporters as he denied Craddock's allegation that he would raise taxes in Northern Virginia by more than $7,000 per family.
Caputo said the tax hike accusation was "a true misleading statement," distorted from his kick-off speech which listed Virginia's top "unfunded requirements," including education, transportation and public safety.
Added together, fully funding that wish-list of government services would cost more than $9.3 billion. However, Caputo said he was merely pointing out that Virginia has a long way to go — not suggesting he wants to raise taxes.
"I believe it's the responsibility of a responsible legislature to take a look at those needs that have gone unfunded," Caputo said.
Even Eby, the Libertarian, drew a few catcalls of disbelief — particularly during his proposals to allow teachers to carry handguns at school and to privatize every government service except public safety.
EACH CANDIDATE was asked what attributes set him apart from his two opponents in the Nov. 8 election.
Craddock said he is the candidate who would work hardest to protect Fairfax County taxpayers and fight to bring more tax dollars home to Northern Virginia from Richmond.
"I think the taxpayers of this area need to watch their pocketbook when someone running in this area proposes $9 billion in new taxes," Craddock said.
Caputo, a former Fairfax County School Board member who currently sits on the Northern Virginia Community College Board of Trustees, said he is the candidate with the most experience.
"What distinguishes me from my opponents? Thirty-six years of experience that you can trust. Leadership that you deserve," Caputo said.
Eby, who said he is running because he feels Craddock is too conservative and Caputo is too liberal, offered a joke as his response.
"The one thing that distinguishes me from my opponents? I don't have the initials 'C.C.,'" he said, as the crowd laughed.
Eby followed-up his joke with the assertion that he is the most principled candidate, who would keep taxes low, while working to ensure Virginia remains a tolerant place to live.
"You can vote for the lesser of two evils," Eby said. "Or, if you really want to feel better about yourself in the morning following election day, you can vote for Chuck Eby."
AS THE CROWD EXITED Westfield High after the debate, Helen Mondloch, a Caputo supporter from Chantilly, argued with her 15-year-old son, Chris Mondloch, who volunteers with the Craddock campaign.
"Why would you support somebody like Craddock?" she asked.
"I like that he's against partial-birth abortion," he responded.
Chris Mondloch said he likes Craddock because he believes the Republican has strong morals.
Helen Mondloch, on the other hand, said she supports Caputo because he has been working in public service longer than Craddock has been alive.
"I just thought he had extraordinary experience in public service that is unrivaled by his opponents," she said.
Of course, only one of the two Mondlochs is actually old enough to vote on Nov. 8.