While most Virginia voters have been weighing their choice for U.S. Senate between Republican George Allen and Democrat Jim Webb, few may realize there will be a third option on the Nov. 7 ballot — Glenda Gail "for Rail" Parker.
Parker, a 59-year-old retired Air Force officer from Alexandria, is the leading third party candidate running this year for federal office. Her party, the Independent Green Party, has a conservative environmental platform and is backing 12 candidates in Virginia for election this fall.
"We're trying to give Virginians someone to vote for, not against," said Parker, wearing a cowboy hat and a sticker that said, "Gail 4 Rail for More Trains, Less Traffic."
Though she appears to have few illusions about her chance of winning, Parker is running to draw the public's attention to her party's issues: greater scrutiny of defense spending, encouraging more citizens to run for office and, above all, the expansion of rail transit.
"Whether I win or lose, I will keep on advocating for rail," she said. "We need more trains, less traffic in Virginia and across the nation."
To get her message out, Parker has traveled more than 30,000 miles (by car) in Virginia. And she has commissioned a catchy campaign jingle, available for download at her party's website, votejoinrun.us.
Parker is among a crowded field of third party candidates from Northern Virginia, who will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot in all three congressional races.
Running against U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) is Arlington resident Jim Hurysz, who lost to Moran in 2004 when he garnered 3.1 percent of the vote.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R) has two independent challengers, Wilbur Wood, of Clarke County, and Neeraj Nigam, of Sterling.
U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R) is facing a challenge from Ferdinando Greco, a taxi driver from Clifton.
With the one exception of Nigam, each of the independent candidates have been endorsed by the Independent Green Party.
"We've got a slate of great candidates this year," said Carey Campbell, the party's state chairman.
But each candidate will face hurdles for their campaigns to be considered even marginally competitive. For instance, each of the incumbents have raised more than 150 times the amount of campaign contributions than their third party challengers, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
"Third party candidates usually don't have the money or visibility to get their candidates elected," said Toni-Michelle Travis, a politics professor at George Mason University. "But they bring up the issues that look risky at this stage and then the two major parties eventually pick up their issues."
For example, Travis said, Dr. Francis Townsend started a movement in California in 1933 that started the idea of social security. Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party of 1912 effectively pushed for women's suffrage, social welfare and income taxes. More recently, Ralph Nader, who ran for president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket, advocated for tough new environmental standards — an issue beginning to gain more traction now because of global warming.
IN THE 8TH DISTRICT, which includes Arlington, Alexandria and Reston, Hurysz, 59, said he is running again because he believes Moran has "gone too far to the right on economic issues."
Specifically, Hurysz said, Moran supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement and Republican-led bankruptcy reform.
"I basically believe he's taken the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position, rather than the traditional Democratic position of protecting American workers," Hurysz said. "He's taken the position of lobbyists and big business."
Hurysz is not a member of the Independent Green Party, but he has been endorsed by them.
Hurysz said he also wants tighter border controls, as the nation's "porous" borders are allowing in drugs and potentially terrorists.
Additionally, Hurysz wants the country to focus more on its long-term sustainability, as between 300 and 600 million new citizens could be added over the next decade.
"We have to have a long-term view of population growth," he said. "I think a sustainable future is a good thing. I think we need to think about the 50,000 to 70,000 new residents that are coming to Northern Virginia."
In recent months, Hurysz said he has been focusing on taking his campaign's message directly to the voters, stopping by farmer's markets and local events to hand out literature and greet potential supporters.
But he will face a popular incumbent, Moran, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1991 and who enjoys a strong base of support in Alexandria. On Nov. 7, Moran and Hurysz will appear on the ballot alongside Republican Tom O'Donoghue.
THE 10TH DISTRICT, which includes Loudoun County and stretches across the northern Fairfax County communities Great Falls and McLean, will see a four-way race on Nov. 7. Wolf, the district's 26-year incumbent, will face a challenge from Democrat Judy Feder and the independents Wood and Nigam.
Wood, 51, is a member of the Libertarian Party and is an optician working in Middleburg. He was a once a Republican, but now he feels that the GOP has strayed from its conservative principles of limited government and personal freedom.
"Mr. Wolf is a nice guy," Wood said. "Everybody likes Frank. But he has to follow the leadership of his party. And his party has lost its way."
Wood is particularly concerned about the nation's $9 trillion debt and the growth of the federal government under President George W. Bush.
Were he to be elected, Wood said he would work to reduce federal taxes and to cut the budgets of the Education and Transportation departments. Education, he believes, should be solely the state's responsibility. And roads, he said, should be largely privatized.
Wood is also motivated to run because of what he sees as violations of the nation's Bill of Rights under the Bush Administration.
Specifically, he said, the First Amendment has been curtailed by "free speech zones" on college campuses and by cordoned off protesters outside wherever Bush gives a speech.
Wood said he would also work to undo the Washington, D.C., handgun ban, which he considers a violation of the Second Amendment.
"Their right to defend themselves has been taken away," he said. "That's not right."
Nigam, a 52-year-old computer systems analyst, immigrated to the United States from India in 1989 and has lived in Sterling since 1996.
Like Wood, Nigam's candidacy is also motivated by what he considers violations of the U.S. Constitution. For his part, Nigam is outraged by the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program and the numerous cases of federal employees losing laptops containing sensitive personal information of citizens.
"The government today is trying to suppress the Constitutional rights that we have," Nigam said. "I've enjoyed and prospered under our Constitutional rights and I believe they must be preserved."
Nigam is also frustrated by the federal government's failure to secure its borders, allowing in illegal immigrants.
"Illegal immigrants, they want to grab, grab, grab for their personal use," he said. "They're not paying their own way. The borders must be secured."
At the same time, Nigam thinks the federal government should speed up the immigration process to allow in more foreigners, while screening out criminals and terrorists, he said.
The 11TH DISTRICT includes the towns of Vienna and Clifton, the City of Fairfax, and much of southern and western Fairfax County. It has been represented by Davis in Congress since 1994.
In November's election, Davis will face a challenge from Democrat Andy Hurst and Greco, 43, who also works as a math tutor on nights he isn't driving his cab.
Greco, who was recruited by the Independent Green Party, said he is running against Davis to further the party's goals of promoting rail transit, democratic participation and the abolishment of no-bid defense contracts.
He hesitates to weigh in on any issue that isn't directly tied to his party's platform, often simply stating the Independent Green Party's slogans. At a debate last week in Fairfax, he was asked his views on a Virginia constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. His response: "My candidacy is about more trains, less traffic."
If he was elected, Greco said he would seek to implement light rail and magnetic levitation trains on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, along the Route 1 corridor in Mount Vernon and in "every community across the country."
But when asked what should be done about the nation's 46.6 million people living without health insurance, he first responded with a slogan ("We need more trains, less traffic") but then admitted that he is one those people who struggles without health coverage.
"I myself am uninsured," he said. "How can I afford it? I'm a small business owner. I can't afford insurance. But electing me to congress will give at least three people health insurance."
Regarding defense spending, Greco said he wants the Defense Department to have an auditable accounting system and to stop "war profiteering" by private defense firms.
"The best way to protect this country is to stop spending more money than we take in," he said.