After sitting through one-and-a-half-hours of a candidate's forum June 6, Frank Shea still had no idea who he would vote for in the Democratic primary six days later.
Both George Barker and Greg Galligan appeared to be good choices for 39th District state senate seat, the retiree said.
"I could go for either one of these guys. It is tough in the sense that both of them are well qualified," said Shea, who intends to vote in the June 12 primary.
Several of the approximately 100 people who attended a Barker and Galligan's midday appearance at Greenspring Village Retirement Community shared the same sentiment.
Many considered themselves Democrats and said they were unlikely to support Republican incumbent Jay O'Brien in fall's general election. But they would have a hard time deciding which of the Democrats they preferred.
"I'd like to see this young man continue in politics but the other candidate has tremendous experience," said Shiria Schacter, a Greenspring resident who hasn't decided how she will vote.
Experience and energy appear to be the two defining characteristics of this campaign.
Barker has lived in Fairfax for over 30 years and emphasizes his experience working with local elected officials, particularly at the county level. He served on several local committees tackling issues like affordable housing, services for people with disabilities and transportation problems.
Galligan, who turns 33 years old next month, served in the Army and worked on Capitol Hill for a former congressman from Michigan. He was also a member of former Gov. Mark Warner's campaign staff.
Galligan lost to O'Brien in the 2003 election for the same seat by 15 percentage points.
Both Democratic candidates have similar views on several issues.
Services offered to persons with disabilities should be expanded, they said.
One of the major problems is that many people with disabilities do not have adequate housing, said Barker. As a foster parent to 13 children and chairman of Fairfax County's social services committee for 13 years, Barker said he would be the most qualified person to tackle that issue in Richmond.
The number of beds available for people who are mentally ill must be increased. Too many people are forced to live with family members who are mentally unstable and a danger to their family, said Galligan.
In response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech, Barker said the state must look at expanding its mental health services.
"We need to make sure people are not on waiting lists," said Barker. He added that the local community services boards need to follow-up to make sure mandated treatment is being followed. Virginia's state investigation has concluded that no one checked to make sure Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech, was getting his court-ordered outpatient mental treatment.
As a former member of the military, Galligan said he would have a lot of credibility when addressing issues of gun control that will come up in the wake of Virginia Tech.
He would "not be taking guns away from law-abiding citizens," but thought regulations should be within reason, he said. Galligan pointed out that he spoke out against suggestions that guns be allowed in bars and pubs during his 2003 election campaign, despite "tremendous pressure" to support the measure.
On transportation issues, Barker highlighted his experience and familiarity with the county's needs as the head of Fairfax's transportation committee.
Carpooling, telecommuting and transit-oriented development that will take cars off the roads should be encouraged, he said. Some road projects — including the completion of Fairfax County Parkway — also need to be a priority, he added.
Fairfax County has a solid plan in place to help alleviate traffic congestion, said Barker.
"What we need is for Richmond to provide the funding. I know that plan well and I want to do the right thing," he said.
Galligan criticized the transportation package passed by the General Assembly this year, saying it would barely meet half of Northern Virginia's needs. The General Assembly should have supported the plan proposed by Gov. Tim Kaine during the 2005-2006 session, he said.
Tax credits should be used as incentives for commuters to use mass transit, said Galligan. The candidate also strongly supports a tunnel through Tysons Corner.
"We need the county and the commonwealth to say we need that tunnel. I don't mind telling Gerry Connolly and the governor that," said Galligan.
Both candidates plan to continue to talk to voters until the primary Tuesday. As of May 30, Barker's campaign had $36,918 available and Galligan's campaign had $58,938 available.
"We have all the momentum in this race. We are talking to voters. We are talking about our positive message," said Galligan.
"I enjoy getting out and talking to people. Many voters are raising issues I am already aware of," said Barker.
Del. Mark Sickles (D-43) said it was imperative that a Democrat claim 39th District seat if the party wanted to gain control of the senate.
"We have to win this seat. We have a chance to send this state in a new direction," said Sickles, who moderated part of the discussion.