Within less than four weeks, both major political parties in Virginia will have chosen their candidates for statewide office by distinctly different processes that correspond neatly to a conventional view of differences between the parties themselves."
The Republican Party of Virginia, in that view, is the part of the conservative elite and appropriately will choose its statewide slate at a June 3-4 convention of delegates chosen during the last two months at city and country party meetings.
Those who hold the Republicans to be the conservative elite view the Democratic Party in Virginia to be the party of everyone else and therefore think it is appropriate that the Democrats are choosing their state in an "open" election on June 14.
There are a number of Virginia political figures, however, who take strong exception to the conclusion that a primary election is the more open method of selecting party candidates.
One who does is Max Graebner, dean of University College at the Universiyt of Richmond, a political speech writer and recently chairman of a committee that decided, 7-2, that Virginia Republicans should again use the convention method to choose their 1978 U.S. Senate candidate.
Because the decision of the committee conformed, as expected, with the present Republican practice, it was given only passing notice. Graebner, however, insists it came only after vigorous debate. He is a strong supporter of the committee's conclusion and in an interview, made these persuasive points:
"If you have a primary, you restrict the possible candidates to the wealthy or near wealthy or require them to turn to the wealthy to wage an effective campaign," he said.
"Our research of campaign financing in other states as well as Virginia developed an average of about $500,000 to run a primary campaign for a top office and another $1 million for the general election. There are a limited number of candidates who can meet those requirements."
The present Democratic primary in Virginia offers an example in support of Graebner's argument. Democrats have an overwhelming majority among legislators and local government officeholders in Virginia, and in theory a long list should have been able to run for governor in an "open" election.
In fact, there were only two potential candidates who had realistic prospects for raising the amount of money needed to be viable candidates in a populous state - former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell, the two who are in fact seeking the nomination.
Miller's well-financed campaign - he seems certain to raise and spend $1 million in the primary - is the product of eight years of statewide politicking and 18 months of intenvsive staff planning and work for this race.
Howell has not been nearly as successful raising money in this campaign, but he brought into it a political momentum and name identification built up in three statewide races, including one for governor in 1973 in which he spent almost $1 million.
Howell is spending a large portion of his money in an effort to locate followers atttracted in past campaigns and turn them out on primary day. Miller is spending for everything that a campaign buys, including extensive radio and television advertising and even ads in the Northern Virginia circulation of national magazines.
The Howell-organization is selling its candidate as it would replacement volumes to existing owners of an encyclopedia. Miller is being marketed like a new brand of beer. The techniques are different, but both require resources that few in state politics can muster.
If the cost of a primary undemocratically winnows the list of candidates, it is reasonable to ask why the Republicans, with a less expensive convention system, have only one person offering for governor, Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton.
The Republican problem seems to be one not of poverty in general, but a poverty of candidates. Out of the tiny band of Republican officeholders with credentials for governor, the two most likely challengers to Dalton were his old allies from the Roanoke area, former Gov. Linwood Holton and Rep. Caldwell Butler. They seemed to take the view that this is Dalton's turn at bat.
The two party races for lieutnant governor do demonstrate that the convention process is more open than primaries. As long ago as January, Democrats in the state Senate looked among the most influential and experienked of their number for a challenger to Charles S. Robb, Richard S. Reynolds and Ira M. Lechner. In the end, it was the conspicuous resources of Robb and Reynolds that chilled more experienced opposition.
On the Republican side former state secretary of finance Walter M. Craigie Jr. was able to step into the lieutenant governor race as recently as late March. State Sen. A. Joe Canada of Virginia Beach had substantial head start on Craigie, but by convention time both will have gone through the same drill of appearing in person before almost every delegate who will cast 1,817 votes at Roanoke.
This will be an informed vote, Graebner argues, and in fact a more open expression of party point of view than primary balloting by an electorate responding to mass merchandizing campaigns that only a few can afford.