With the polls set to close in the next half hour, members of Team Englin were still calling telephone numbers and encouraging voters who had not voted to head to the polls. A small army of volunteers had been working nearly nonstop for the last week in an effort to re-elect Del. David Englin (D-45), a first-term freshman defending his seat against a well-known Republican real-estate attorney who had outraised and outspent the Democratic incumbent since entering the race this summer. Now, with Election Day voting in its wee hours, the phone-banking effort was still in full force — squeezing the last possible ounce of support at the last possible minute in Alexandria’s hottest political contest.
"If you are in line to vote by 7 o’clock, you’ll still be able to vote," John Alex Golden, assistant campaign manager, spoke into his cell phone. "And we would appreciate your support."
With few substantive issues separating the candidates, the race turned into a referendum on personality — Englin’s aggressive style in opposition to Republican challenger Mark Allen’s decidedly laid-back approach. As the Republican candidate was shaking hands in Market Square at high noon on Tuesday, Allen’s longtime presence in the community as a real-estate lawyer was evident in the familiar waves he received while greeting voters. City Hall was the only Alexandria precinct Allen was able to win, keeping the traditionally Republican enclave solidly in the red.
"I’m feeling positive about this race," Allen said while taking a break from greeting voters. "I guess we’ll find out tonight."
ENGLIN WON THE race handily, beating Allen 61 percent to 37 percent. Mark Allen may have purchased television advertising and water bottles festooned with his campaign logo, but the Englin campaign was determined to beat him with elbow grease and the passion of volunteers. Volunteers spent the weeks heading into Election Day calling voters to ask for their support, and every voter on the master list received a call while the polls were open Tuesday. Just before noon, two celebrity volunteers showed up in Englin’s living room to help man the telephones: Minority Leader Del. Ward Armstrong (D-10) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian Moran (D-46). The pair was greeted by Team Englin, then handed a list of telephone numbers.
"Hello. This is Ward, a volunteer for the Englin campaign, and I’m calling to remind you that today is Election Day," Armstrong spoke into the receiver. "Have you had a chance to get to the polls yet today?"
"I love it," Moran chortled between calls. "The minority leader is introducing himself as Ward the volunteer."
The Allen campaign headquarters, by contrast, was much quieter. The Republican strategy was to give volunteers call lists and have them make calls at their leisure from home. At midday, the only sign of life at the candidate’s headquarters was campaign manager David Rexrode, who was feeling optimistic about Allen’s chance of victory. He said that Allen’s direct-mail campaign had remained positive and upbeat — despite predictions from many Democrats that the campaign would descend into the same kind of nastiness that plagued other Northern Virginia races.
"We didn’t even mention the name of our opponent in any of the direct-mail pieces," Rexrode said. "Our candidate is someone who can work with both sides — someone who is not a partisan flame-thrower."
BENEATH THE SURFACE of Allen’s message was the subtle — and sometimes not so subtle — implication that Englin’s style was needlessly abrasive. If Allen is not a "flame-thrower," as Rexrode said, the implication is that someone else is. And the literature Allen volunteers handed out at the precincts Tuesday said that Allen was "more concerned about finding solutions than picking fights" — an obvious reference to Englin’s reputation as one of the most outspoken freshmen members during the last two years. During one campaign event, Allen referred to Englin as a "hair on fire" politician.
"I wish my hair was on fire," said Englin at his campaign headquarters. "It would have kept me warm while I was out working the polls."
Campaign finance records show that Englin raised $252,051, a grand total that included $30,000 from the state Democratic Party as well as contributions from lawyers, retired contributors and investment bankers. But most of Englin’s money was raised and spent during his first term in office — long before Allen jumped into the race as a Republican. After flirting with the prospect of challenging Englin in a Democratic primary, Allen filed as a Republican this summer and quickly began amassing a massive campaign war chest of $235,821 — almost as much as Englin raised during his entire term in office. One of Allen’s largest expenses was the salary of Charlie Hulfish, his campaign chairman. Records show that Allen paid Hulfish $21,000.
"I’m surprised that he would have hired a nonprofessional like Hulfish and paid a professional salary," said Marian Van Landingham, who represented the 45th District from 1982 to 2006. "Paying someone on your campaign staff $21,000 certainly sounds like a professional-level salary to me."
FINDING COMMON ground was a theme of Allen’s challenge to Englin. Although Allen charged that Englin was "out of the mainstream" early in the campaign, he later softened his rhetoric and referred to his own style as "un-Republican." In stump speeches and in one-on-one meetings with voters late in the campaign, Allen said that he would be a moderate Republican who was able to represent the district’s interests behind closed doors during caucus meetings in Richmond. But Democrats challenged his ability to be an independent voice within the Virginia Republican Party that.
"Either you are a Republican and you stand with them or you don’t," said Susan Kellom, chairwoman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. "If he thought he could be a moderate voice in the House Republican caucus, he obviously doesn’t understand how the House Republicans wield power."
A former Air Force officer, Englin moved to Alexandria in 2003 and quickly became part of the city’s political scene. When former Del. Marian Van Landingham announced her intention to retire from public life in 2005, Englin was one of six candidates vying to be her replacement on the Democratic ticket. His door-to-door campaign effort and grassroots style helped him emerge victorious in the primary and he faced only token Republican opposition in the fall. This year, the situation was reversed, as Englin faced no Democratic opponents in the primary and a tough Republican challenger.
"This was the best possible Republican that could have run for this seat," said Shayna Englin, who acted as campaign manager for her husband. "He has no record on anything, and he had enough money to hide the fact that he was a Republican."