Today, as Ed Wayland (D) battles incumbent Del. Paul Harris (R-58th) for the spot Harris has held since 1997, both contenders say the defining issues are education, healthcare and the environment.
"Our campaign is about three issues: the right to sue HMOs when they make medical decisions that cause harm, the protection of the environment ... and protecting, strengthening and supporting the public schools," Wayland Campaign Manager Michael Diz said.
Harris has made similar assertions, emphasizing his stance on the importance of education.
"Education is the number one issue," he said.
The campaign has not been quite as straightforward as it seems, however. A more sordid aspect of the campaign stems from the accusations from both sides that the opponents are trying to undercut each other's character.
Harris' "Faith, Family, Freedom" platform presents his record as delegate as evidence for his accomplishments. At the same time, though, Wayland is trying to use Harris' voting record against him.
Wayland contends that Harris' record proves him less than responsive to his constituents' needs.
"Our focus is on what Ed Wayland thinks about these issues and what Paul Harris voted on these issues," Diz said. "We are not concerned about any other aspect of Paul Harris other than his record as a legislator."
Even though Diz and Wayland himself have said that they are only concerned about Harris' record, Harris' supporters have accused Wayland's campaign participants of "mudslinging" and presenting Harris' stance on certain issues in a skewed manner.
Wayland and his supporters contend that Harris has run from his track record and has made inaccurate statements about his positions, such as in education and healthcare.
"He is trying to run from his record. One specific example of this was his vote to deny citizens the right to sue HMOs," Diz said. "Paul is distorting his own record. When Emily Couric says she's led the fight on education issues, it's true. When Paul Harris says it, it's not an accurate reflection of the reality of his performance as a legislator."
But Harris and his supporters say otherwise.
"We're trying to focus on the issues rather than mudslinging," said Harris Campaign Manager Bill Janis. "Can you really trust anything the other side says if they're making these outrageous claims?"
Harris stands behind running a kosher campaign, stressing his stance on education as a potential deciding factor in the race.
"The positive nature in which I run this campaign, stressing education issues, returning funds without any strings attached," he said, referring to his campaign.
Despite the heated exchanges during campaigning, Harris has led steadily in the polls throughout the race.
The first black Republican since Reconstruction to hold a seat in the Virginia state legislature, Harris was born and raised in Charlottesville. He grew up in a single parent home, which he has said influenced his strong stress on family values, one of the emphases of the Republican Party. He graduated from Hampton University in 1986 after receiving an Army ROTC scholarship.
Harris is pro-life and does not support affirmative action.
"His faith in God says we're all created in His image. He doesn't feel that looking at someone and looking at the color of their skin ... Race is a proxy for socio-economic issues," Janis said. "Harris is not in favor of race in admissions policies. He's in favor of considering socio-economic background. He thinks this is consistent with Dr. Martin Luther King's vision."
On the other side of the spectrum, Wayland is pro-choice and pro-affirmative action. Wayland graduated from Hamilton College in New York in 1970 and went on to Columbia Law School. He has lived in the 58th district since 1977, where he works as a lawyer with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Legal Aid Society.