Joe Sayko runs a garage in Abbs Valley, which isn't on most maps of Virginia but lies in Tazewell County near the West Virginia border. He's an active Democrat and a precinct chairman, and before each election he "polls" as many local voters as he can to find out which candidate he should support.
The Gallups and the Harris' and the Peter Harts would find Sayko's polling methods somewhat suspect - he simple hands Democrat copies of the candidates' campaign literature and asks them who they favor - but it serves his purposes just fine. "If they (the people) say hang 'em, I hang 'em," he said.
If Sayko "hangs" any candidate this year, it probably won't be Andrew P. Miller for governor, Ira M. Lechner for lieutenant governor, or John L. Melnick for attorney general. The Sayko poll is out, and those three men are the pick of the field - in Abbs Valley at least.
Joe Sayko's poll is an example of an aspect of politics that traditionally surfaces around this time before an election - in this case, the June 14 Democratic primary. It's called the battle of the polls.
There are polls from just about every area of Virginia taken by just about every one of the candidates: Miller and Henry Howell in the governor's race; Ricahrd S. (Major) Reynolds III, Charles S. Robb, and Lechner in the lieutenant governor's race; and Melnick, Edward E. Lane, Erwin S. (Shad) Solomon, or John Schell in the race for attorney general.
In the lieutenant governor's race for example, each of the three candidate cities polls or surveys that reinforce his contention that victory is at hand:
Reynolds advisor, Mark Shields, a veteran political consultant, said that a Reynolds poll of cover 600 registered voters showed Reynolds ahead "by a larger percentage than Lechner's entire vote." Shields would not reveal the exact results of his poll of voters who said they were Democrats and intending to vote in the June 14 primary. He said that a third of those polled, half of whom were not planning to vote, were undecided.
Robb, campaign direcctor William A. Romjue said that "unscientific telephone samplings" by Robb phone bank workers "look good enough too feel comfortable." He also cites recent endorsements by state legislator and a large independent labor union to bolster his feelings that "Robb is catching on."
Lechner's wife, Susan, reports that of 1,344 persons polled by phone in Fairfax and Arlington Counties by Lechner workers, 33 per cent favored him, 14 per cent were not, and 53 per cent were undecided. The calls were made only to people on a list of Democrats who had participated in the last primary. Susan Lechner said that of 330 people called in Robb's home precinct in Fairfax, 31.5 per cent were for Ira Lechner, 11.5 per cent were not, and 57 per cent were undecided.
In short, there is no clear consensus on who is the front-runner in the lieutenant governor's race. Faced, with the scarcity of hard information, political officials and workers around the state are still puzzling over questions central to the race.
Will Chuck Robb translate the interest shown in him as a celebrity (he is former President Lyndon B. Johnson's son-in-law) into votes on primary day?
Will Major Reynolds turn off voter with his expensive ($160,000) media campaign which thematically invokes the memory of his dead brother, Lt. Gov.J. Sargeant Reynolds?
Will Lechner's emphasis on grassroots organization produce a winning vote despite his inability to pay for any television and radio advertising? Does being Jewish and having the support of labor unions spell political death in conservative Virginia?
Interviews with party officials and workers around the state recently have shown that Robb has aroused the interest of a large number of voters. His parties and fund-raisers are always well attended, and he is gossiped about - a sure sign of interest - among people interested in politics.
"There was scepticism at first that he was not a serious candidate," said ninth district chairman James P. Jones, who is not endorsing anyone in the race. "There was speculation that he would run entirely on his celebrity. But he meets people well and impresses people as a speaker, which is unusual because down here we're used to impassioned orators banging on the tables and so forth. He sounds calm and reasonable."
Jones also said that Lechner had considerable support in the southwest as a result of numerous visits over the nearly two years he has been working on his campaign. "We take kind of informal polls at our district meetings, asking who is for who," Jones said, "It seem to me its even here between Ira and Robb."
Reynolds has received the endorsement of two leading black groups in the state, a powerful boost that is expected to bring him significant blocks of motivated voters. However, the powerful Concerned Citizens for Political Education in Norfolk, a black caucus which in the past has been able to produce 90 per cent of the city's ten predominantly black precincts through its "Golden Rod" ballot endorsement, has not yet voiced support of any candidate.
Del. William P. Robinson Sr., a member of the group, said there is division among the 30 members of the steering committee on the lieutenant governor's race because no blacks are involved in policy making in any of the campaigns. "We may not endorse anyone in that race," he said.
As the media assault begins, comments on the quality of Robb's and Reynolds' television and radio commercials tends to dominate some conversations.
"I've found a strong antimoney reaction," Lechner said. "People have seen these commercials before. They have seen commercials with guys walking along the side of a road with their jackets slung over their shoulders. And the one that shows Major Reynolds) in the cornfield or whatever it is - people say to me, 'When do you think that boy was last out in a cornfield?' Money is helpful but too much money is harmful . . ."
Lechner pointed out that all the polls, from newspaper surveys to his own phone banks," show a large percentage of the voters are undecided. "Does that show that media (advertising) is effective? I say it's falling flat on its face."
In the end, several observers said, the choice of the voter may depend on same chance or whimsical element, such as where a candidate went to school, or who he talks to at a party function.
In Robb's case, Abbs Valley poller Joe Sayko said he was originally impressed by Robb after seeing all the candidates at a Tazewell Democratic Dinner. "But after the dinner he and Reynolds didn't associate with us common folk, they only associated with the aristocrats. I didn't like Mrs. Johnson coming in here campaigning either. I think she's way out of line."
On the other hand, one Tidewater area legislator said that several people have told him they may support Robb just to see what he can do. "They say that since the lieutenant governor doesn't do anything anyway it might be okay to give the guy a chance," he said. "He can't do much harm."