For the fourth time in eight years, Henry E. Howell is campaigning for statewide office in Virginia, seeking out "Henry's people" in the "Henry" style.
The "Henry" label is the only appropriate one for the Howell constituency and the Howell campaign technique. Both are unique in modern Virginia politics and both defy conventional labels.
Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia Institute of Government, recognized this in his most recent statistical and political analysis of Virginia election results, "Virginia Votes 1969-1974." Commenting on Howell's narrow loss to Mills E. Godwin in the 1973 gubernatorial election, Sabato said:
"Howell's elctoral showing was remarkable, but his vote total did not mean that Virginia has become liberal. Most voters did not perceive Howell as liberal; the distinction between liberal and conservative is blurred by a convincing populist platform and presentation. Nor can the unique Howell coalition by easily duplicated by any similarly thinking politician."
The Howell coalition has been one of voters who agreed with the candidate that they had a general grievance against a government insensitive to their aspirations. It has included blacks and organized labor - major elements of the natural constitutency of national Democrats. It also has included a good chunk of the voters in precincts that went heavily for Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace in the 1968 presidential election.
The Wallace vote that attaches itself to a veteran black rights champion such as Howell may defy analysis, but it likely is an aggrieved electorate that wants to send a message to somebody and believes that in Virginia Henry Howell is the most likely messenger.
The Howell coalition has never been enough to win a two-way race. It lost by slender margins to a moderate-conservative Democrat in the 1969 party gubernatorial primary and to a conservative Democrat-turned-Republican in the 1973 general election, when Howell ran as in independent. It did elect Howell lieutentant governor as an independent in a 1971 special election, when a Republican and Democrat split the moderate-conservative vote.
Now in Democrat primary against former Attorney General Andrew P. Miller for the nomination for governor, Howell is again trying to rally his people with a populist plattform and presentation.
He opposes any increase in board-based taxes, promises free textbooks in the schools, advocates greater home rule for cities and counties, supports collective bargainning for public employees wherever local government accept it, and says he will personally take charge of consumer representation against utilities when governor.
But as always before it is the style as much as the substance of the campaign that distinguishes Howell from his opponent. Out of a dozen campaign stops during the last two weeks, here is a Howell sampler:
Advocating removal of some federal tax deductions from the Virginia tax laws, he said at a Danville fund-raiser, "When Henry is governor, the super rich are going to sleep better at night because they'll know they are doing their share."
Asserting that it is foolish to offer federal tax benefits designed for a maximum U.S. tax of more than 50 per cent in a state with a maximun tax of 5 3/4 per cent, he said, "It's like having Lil Orphan Annie turn a jump rope with Wilt Chamberlian." The analogy may have passed over some heads, but it left te unmistakable impression of tax laws out of kilter.
In Alexandria, he held aloft the Richmond News-Leader, the conservative afternoon paper that often has attacked him, and called it the "Snooze Leader."
On a Danville radio show, he promised a listener who called in a hostile question about food stamp chislers, "When I am governor, I'll establish a hot line so anyone who sees a Cadillac pull up to a grocery store and the driver goes in with food stamps and comes out with a six-pack of beer can call and report it. We don't want anyone cheating on food stamps.
He told a black farmer in Goochland that the revenues of the electric utilities during the cold winter "were like a crop of corn coming up in January" and took credit for the state regulatory review of utility earnings during the cold winter.
He recited at most stops his record as public litigant whose lawsuits helped end the poll tax, bring about one-man-one-vote legislative apportionment and prohibit reductions to state school aid to offset U.S. payments to school districts with a concentration of federal employees.
There is a repeat of the Howell performances that brought him close to the governor's office twice before, but this year there is in the candidate an unconcealed anxiety that there is not enough time, money and organization behind him to reach the aggrieved.
"I think I could excite the young people if I could get them together," he said after a reception at Longwood College that only a few faculty members attended.
At the Dan River textile mills in Dan ville, where the union is weak and the political activity among 10,000 workers is low. Howell saw many of the somber employees brush by him at a plant gate. He said later, "I think I could motivate them if I had the time."
Most worrisome for Howell, perhaps, is the expected defection of large numbers of black voters to Miller, the first Howell opponent who has himself cultivated a strong black following.
"I guess Andy should get 25 per cent of the black vote," Howell mused on a fligth across Southside Virginia last week. "We used to get 90 to 95 per cent always."
Howell's estimate may be optimistic. John Austin, a black supporter from Buckingham County, said at a Farmville fund-raiser that Miller and Howell will evenly divide the black vote in his county. Robert Stafford, a black lawyer and Miller supporter in Arlington, confidently predicts a black majority statewide for his candidate, who also collected 95 per cent of the black vote in 1973 against weak Republican opposition.
The Howell coalition, never enough to win a two-way race before, could hardly stand a major defection. In the 10 weeks left before the June 14 primary, the Henry style will have to do much to rally Henry's people.