Properly outfitted with bumper stickers and brochures under one arm and campaign buttons in his pocket, candidate Ira Lechner approached the George Mason University cafeteria yesterday with an air of resignation.
Instead of the speech he had planned to deliver at a (canceled) candidate's forum, he was going to be "meeting and greeting" potential voters on campus - not the most profitable use of time for a candidate. But during his hour of wooing students and faculty in the cafeteria, Lechner demonstrated what his supporters say is perhaps his major asset in his race for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor - his brain.
Lechner, political observers agree, is smart. He's a good debater and has a command of statistics and information that reflects a grasp of a wide range of issues. But whether this will be enough to compensate for a lack of name recognition or money and a liberal image, will be decided only in the June 14 primary.
Lechner is opposed by Charles S. (Chuck) Robb, who has the advantage of a $300,000 treasury and a campaigning mother-in-law, Lady Bird Johnson. Richard S. (Major) Reynolds III also is seeking the nomination. He plans to spend $250,000 and has a name previously successful in Virginia elections and well-known among the party faithful. Lechner hopes to raise about $100,000 and, as he puts it, has no qualifications for "royalty."
According to their respective campaign aides Reynolds spend yesterday in meetings in Norfolk and Robb was scheduled to visit country stores along Rte. 1, passing up the chance to participate in a once-scheduled forum at George Mason. So Lechner, after noting their absence on a tiny scrap of paper he keeps among scores of jottings in his pockets, was left to wend his way alone - talking every minute.
Out came the statistics, political and legislative history, detailed explanations of positions or various issues, and, occasionally, brief debate with a student who took a differing view.
"What's your position on special education (for the handicapped)?" asked one student.
"That's one of my main interests," Lechner answered, "I'm on the advisory board of the Virginia Association for Children with Learning Disabilities . . . Do you know there are an estimated 20,000 children who don't receive any education at all because there are no facilities for them? It's incredible."
The woman brightened. She said she had a handicapped brother at the Northern Virginia Training Center and was glad to know Lechner supported financing that institution.
On to the next table and a young woman in overalls. "What do you think about having students on the board of visitors?" she asked.
"I sponsored a bill in the General Assembly to have a voting student member on the board of visitors in every state-supported school," he said, adding the bill didn't pass. "A viting member?" the young woman asked. "Will you keep fighting for that?"
Another student said she was majoring in education, and that she was a Republican. "Ah, but you vote for the man, right? Let men give you a copy of my brochure on educational issues," Lechner said. "I support adequate planning time and duty free lunch persons for all teachers. Did you know that most elementary school teachers don't get a duty free lunch?"
"Really?" she said.
Two young men asked if he supported decriminalizing marijuana - he said "No. that's a cop out" and got an argument when he said that "too many children die from ODs (overdoses) and too often it starts with involvement in the drug culture through marijuana."