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As Virginia Goes...?

Tuesday's special election in Virginia for a vacant congressional seat provided a window into how both parties may approach elections in 2002.

Sadly, the view includes a glaring case for reforming campaigns.

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J. Randy Forbes, a conservative Republican, won with 52 percent over L. Louise Lucas, a moderate Democrat and an African-American in a district that's 40 percent black. The seat had been held by a Democrat. With this win, the GOP increases its margin in the House to 222, with 210 for Democrats.

Estimates of total campaign spending for the race top $5 million, and most of the money came from the national parties. That's a distressingly phenomenal amount to spend on a House race, and suggests the parties will spend big money only on the tightest races for the House and Senate, instead of spreading it around.

For his part, Mr. Forbes was ready to campaign for lieutenant governor - until the GOP suggested otherwise. Top Bush officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, lent support to the campaign. Democrats, too, sent in their heavy hitters. Even former President Bill Clinton recorded a "Get out the vote" phone message.

Further, the national parties tried to use this race to test-market their opposing views on the issue of privatizing Social Security. Local issues were pushed aside.

All this proves that congressional races can be distorted by heaps of outside money, big-wig political influence, and viewing citizens as consumers.

What's happening to government of the people, by the people, for the people?

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor