The camera swoops over a golden field and races toward a craggy, tree-covered cow pastere where a twangy-voiced farmer pasture where a twangy-voiced former Virginia attorney general Andrew P. Miller.
". . . Why Andrew, you know," the farmer says in a soft voice from off camera, "wants to solve sumthin'. We talked 'bout everythin'. You can tell that, ah, whatever he's goin' do, he's, ah, goin' do it. That's the main thang."
Washington County farmer Make Johnson's endorsement may not have been the most publicized endorsement Miller has received during his current campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial against Henry E. Howell, but some Miller strategists believe it could be one of the most important.
Johnson's homely blessing for Miller is the theme of one of a series of Miller television commercials that his campaign staff hopes will be seen in virtually every home in the state, except in Northern Virginia, before Miller faces Howell in the June 14 party primary.
Television advertising generally has been regarded as a major factor in Virginia elections since 1972 when Sen. William L. Scott, then a little known Republican House member, staged a last-minute television ad "blitz" and upset Sen. William B. Spong; a Democrat. Only in Northern Virginia, where Washington ad rates put television commercials beyond the reach of most candidates, is television less of a factor.
With only four weeks before the state's primary, it appears that television spending will easily become one of the costliest - and most controversial - aspects of the current campaign. Although the actual costs probably won't be known until after the primary, when final expense reports are filled, some political managers here are estimating that media spending by the candidates could approach $500,000.
The money is not spread evenly among the candidates and that already has stirred envy and bitter charges. "I don't think the public its going to be responsive to a media campaign that sells someone like soap," complained Del. Ira M. Lechner of Arlsington, a candidate for lieutenant governor, who is certain to outspent by his two opponents.
One of them, McLean lawyer Charles S. (Chuck) Robb, astounded some politicians here by disclosing he probably would spend more than $100,000 on television. Del. Richard S. (Major) Reynolds, the third candidate in the Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial primary and a member of the wealthy Reynolds Metals Co. family, quickly said he was in the process of revising his media spending and that his current spending estimate is more than $100,000.
Most surprising was the admission by Howell, a former lieutenant governor, that his campaign was nowhere near its $600,000 goal and that its highly-prized television commercials, prepared by President Carter's 1976 Atlanta adman Gerald Rafshoon, might never get on the air. Although Howell advisers sought to downplay the importance of television this year, others here viewed television differently.
"All other things equal, it's difficult to be elected without it," claimed Richmond ad executive Thomas G. Finnegan, who handled the Scott campaign and currently is doing Reynolds' ads. "We have to look at a political campaign almost like a McDonald hamburger campaign. You're selling a product."
Miller campaign director Walter Marston said Howell's possible absence from television could be telling on primary day. "That's how he rallies his troops," Marston said the other day.
Despite Howell's financial troubles, his campaign manager, Paul Goldman, attempted to assure reporters that the Howell commercials will go on the air and ridiculed Miller for already showing his. "It's a sign of weakness to go on TV this early," Goldman said, adding that he thought Miller's commercials were "lousy." "I would be ashamed to show them if it were my campaign," he said.
The Miller commercials are only a portion of an overall media campaign that is designed to shower the Virginia electorate with Miller newspaper ads, ratio jingles (done in stereo for FM stations, country music for country music stations, and in an upbeat tempo for "contemporary" radio stations), T-shirts, posters and telephone calls. The campaign is selling, and sometimes giving away, 15,000 baseball caps bearing an "It's Andy Miller Time" badge.
The well-funded Miller Campaign - Howell calls it "the $1 million campaign" to stop him - has even taken full-page ads in the Northern Virginia and Norfolk-area editions of Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and Sports Illustrated, the first time a Virginia candidate is believed to have placed political advertising in national magazines.
Just what this is costing the Miller campaign is a well guarded secret, although some estimates have put Miller's media costs at close to $200,000 - $40,000 under the total amount that Howell last week reported he has collected since beginning his campaign. However, Marston, Miller's manager, said that he believes Miller's precinct organization will be more important than his advertising effort. "The main thing is," he said, "we will either sink or swim with the organization."
There is no dispute, however, that media is potentially much more important in the less visible races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. "When you're down at our level, you're trying to disrupt the traffic and just get some attention," said Gary O'Neal, media coordinator for Edward E. Lane, who may be the only one of four candidates in the Democratic attorney general primary to afford any television spots.
In the races for lieutenant gubernatorial and attorney general nominations, "you're looking for name recognition," O'Neal said. "There are no issues. It's whoever's name that they heard last; that's who they'll vote for."
Campaign aides to the other three candidates in the attorney general's primary - Del. John L. Melnick and John T. Schell, both of Arlington, and Del. Erwin S. (Shad) Solomon of Bath County - said their candidates plan radio advertising if their funds permit. Dorothy Lyon, an Arlington advertising executive who works for Melnick, was skeptical about the idea. "I don't think medio in this state at this time will do a darn bit of good," she said. Still, she added: "For our purposes, we think a radio blitz at the end will serve our purpose."
Spokesmen for both Robb and Reynolds deny Lechner's charges that they are running "a media campaign," although they freely concede they are making extensive use of television advertising. "We put more emphasis on television because Chuck comes off well on television," said Robb manager Bill Romjue.Besides, he added "We haven't time to meet every Virginian; so we're doing it through TV."
Both men stress their ties to Virginia in their ads: Robb strolling past his old high school in Alexandria with his former basketball coach and Reynolds showing photos of his ancestors and his late brother, J. Sergeant Reynolds, who was lieutenant governor until his death from a brain tumor in 1971. Both roam about, as Miller does in his commercials, without ties, slapping backs at country stores, and listening soberly to the advice others are giving them.
It is, their managers said, an effort to show their candidates' personal warmth and charm. Or, in Reynolds' case, "that he doesn't play polo on Sunday," said adman Finnegan.