If the race between Henry E. Howell and Andrew P. Miller for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia were decided on financing and organization, there could be little doubt about the outcome next June 14.
After 15 months as announced candidates and three months of intensive campaigning, Miller, 44, has outclassed Howell, 56, in the contest for money and in campaign logistics.
Howell is a former lieutenant governor who came within 15,000 votes out of 1 million cast of beating Republican Mills E. Godwin in the 1973 gubernatorial election. His ability to turn consumer and civil rights issues to his advantage has made him a formidable campaigner and earned him the support of such voting blocs as blacks, organized labor and public employees.
Miller is less colorful as a campaigner, but is building support on a moderate conservative base of Democrats who, much like national Democrats after 1972, want more than anything else to choose a nominee who is electable against moderate-conservative Republican opposition.
The effect of Miller's superior organization and financing is in doubt largely because of Howell's recognized campaign ability. Experienced campaign officials are unable to predict what kind of voter will dominate the turnout in a state that has not held a Democratic primary since 1969 and does not require registration by party.
Nevertheless, the absence of good financing and organization is playing an increasingly conspicouous role in the Howell campaign.
Howell's campaigning in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the rural central region known to Virginians as Southside reflected a desperation for funds. On Friday, with less than three months remaining before the election, he voluntarily disclosed contributions of $195,000, less than one-third of his primary campaign goal and less than one-fifth of Miller's goal.
Howell conceded in an interview that Miller probably has raised at least twice that amount by now. Miller himself refused to disclose contributions before May 14, the first reporting date required by law.
Howell has relied on a relatively small number of big givers to finance his previous campaigns, and Friday's disclosure reflected no change in that pattern.
One-third of his total contributions came from three sources: $35,000 from the political action fund of Masters, Mates and Pilots Union retires, $20,000 from Richmond retailer Sydney Lewis and $12,000 from coal mine operator Colby Elkins. Howell is an attorney for the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union.
Despite these big gifts, it is apparent that the large union and individual gifts that financed Howell in 1973 are not available on that scale this year. "We were a little spoiled by the big contributions in the past," Howell's Northern Virginia fund raiser, Gerald W. Hyland, said at an Alexandria campaign stop. Hyland, an Alexandria lawyer and former candidate for the House of Delegates from Fairfax County, said the campaign's goal for Northern Virginia is only $80,000.
The slow trickle of funds to Howell is beginning to impose an obvious burden on time that at this stage of the campaign is ideally devoted to appeals for votes. On a fund-raising foray into Southside last Tuesday and Wednesday, he spent a full 20 minutes at a Danville grocery waiting for its owner to deliver a promised $50 check.
Later that day, his campaign motor home made an excursion to the out-of-the-way office of a Pittsylvania County road contractor to pick up a donation only to find the contractor absent and the citizens band radio that could have used to call out of order.
As he left Danville for a tour of Pittsylvania that day, Howell turned to homebuilder Aubrey Farrell, his fund raiser for the Danville area, and made an urgent appeal for Farrell's personal contribution. "I need it today," Howell said. "We're working on it," Farrell replied.
Howell's campaigning during the last week also reflected uneven campaign organizational work. A reception at Longwood College in Farmville produced only five persons, all of them already committed to the candidate. At Blackstone that night, Howell found only four Jaycees at a meeting that took two hours of his time. After an hour of talking to the four, he asked for commitments of support and got four refusals.
In between these disasters, there were small successes. About 50 persons turned out for a fund raising breakfast at the Charlotte County town of Keysville and for a dinner with the same purpose at Farmville. Both events were put together by long-time personal friends and supporters.
The candidate is painfully aware of the shortage of time. "We have got to do better," he said in the midst of the Longwood reception. At Blackstone, he interjected, "We have got to make better use of our time."
By contract, the Miller organization has managed so far to turn out uniformly good crowds at Miller appearances.A decision to hold a reception before the Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the cavernous Richmond Coliseum attracted about 1,000 people, enough to fill the arena's floor space. His Northern Virginia campaign headquarters opening in Oakton drew several hundred people, a remarkable turnout for a routine event.
As the campaign has progressed, the issues on which the two candidates take markedly different positions have gradually emerged.
Miller flatly opposes collective bargaining for public employees while Howell strongly favors it. Howell even said at one stop last week that he will establish bargaining for executive branch employees by executive order if elected governor.
He did not explain how such an executive order could coexist with the recent state Supreme Court ruling that collective bargaining by public employees is illegal under current law.
On another labor issue, Miller is flatly opposed to repeal of the state's law barring compulsory union membership. Howell is perceived by trade unionists as favoring repeal of the law, but he regularly states at campaign stops that "Virginians don't like compulsionism," and he dismisses the repeal issue as nonexistent because the General Assembly would not approve it during the next four years.
On other issues: Howell flatly favors more home rule for cities and counties while Miller has called for a commission to recommend apportionment of powers between state and localities.
Howell has said he will never propose a general tax increase as governor, while Miller has refused to commit himself specifically on taxes so far.
On the question of utility rate regulation, Howell continues to advocate repeal of the fuel adjustment clause that permits electric utilities to pass on fuel cost increases automatically while Miller insists that the only productive area for utility cost reductions is adoption of a rate structure and use of mechanical devices that reduce demand during peak usage period and shift it to nonpeak periods.
Howell's attacks on utilties - usually directed at the Virginia Electric and Power Co. (Vepco) - are made more effective by his free wheeling rhetoric. In a play on the company's anagram, he refers to it as the "Very Expensive Power Company."
He used to say in past campaigns, "They don't like my prying and I don't like their profits," or "Every year like clockwork, Vepco raises your rates and every year like police work Henry blows the whistle on them."
These are substantial differences in positions, but the differences in style between the two candidates is even greater and is itself becoming an issue in the campaign.
At the Arlington Rotary Club last week Miller, the former president of the Abington Rotary Club with his opponent clearly in mind, said candidates should "not go out and engage in political rhetoric or demagogue on particular issues simply because of the fact that it might make headlines."
This has been the standard criticism of Howell by the Virginia political establishment as it has defended itself against his populist attacks in two previous bids for the governorship.
Howell's increasingly frequent commentary on Miller's style classifies him in obviously condescending terms that exclude him from the company of "movers and shakers" that Howell says should be running the Virginia government during the next four years.
"My friend is a bright young man with a bright future," Howell says of Miller at most stops. "He is a well programmed candidate and perhaps some day he'll even be governor."