In an effort to focus voter's attention on his race for the Democratic for an attorney general, John L. (General Jack) Melnick started south today on an 1,800-mile trip in a camper equipped with signs, a loudspeaker and a CB radio.
"Testing, testing," he announced over the loudspeaker as he left a group of about 20 supporters waving from his Arlington headquarters shortly after 7:30 a.m. "A vote for Jim Gondles is a vote for the future of Arlington!" Gondles is his campaign manager.
The first lap of the journey was a little rocky with unexpected troubles such as losing the driver's glasses in Dumfries and finding that most of downtown Fredericksdurg closes on Wednesday afternoon. But it seemed to be accomplishing the purpose - getting attention - as reporters appeared at every stop and rode along.
Melnick is running Dels Edward E. Lane and Erwin S. (Shad) Solomon and attorney John Schell in the June 14 primary.
The van carries a sign on the back that says "General Jack" can be reached on the CB on Channel 19. Melnick used to be called "Jack of Diamonds" but changed his "handle" for the trip to have something more appropiate for the attorney general's race.
"This is KEI-0218, General Jack Melnick running for attorney general of Virginia," he said with an experienced tone into the CB microphone.
"Break one for a ten thirty six," (That'smean 'what time is it?" and is a way to find out if anyone can hear you.)
At first all Melnick got in return was a strange, slightly out of tune song and some indecipherable chit-chat. "Channel 19 is the garbage channel," Melnick explained. "They use it for chattering. If anyone really wants to discuss issues I'll ask them to switch down to another channel."
Meanwhile, Melnick was explaining his views, qualifications and the reasons his opponents are no good.
Melnick generally is a rather stiff campaigner who appears uncomforable walking up to strangers and asking for their votes, but he seemed to be having more fun today. At one point he solicited a stray dog, arguing that he represented the Animal Welfare League. "Must be a daggone Republican," he muttered when the dog walked off.
He made the traditional courthouse complex tour in Stafford, where he was received as politely, no doubt, as the candidates who preceded him have been. In Dumfries he went into a barbershop decorated with a sign saying "Please No Profanity: Your Wife - Kids May Be in Here," where he woke a long-haired gentleman out of a snooze and got a pleasant response.
Gondles said the 12-day trip, which is expected to take Melnick through 75 towns, 45 counties and all 10 congressional districts, will cost about $2,000. Considering the high cost of advertising, Melnick said the journey is well worth the investiment. He said the announcement of the trip got him more mentions on a Richmond radio station in the morning than Lane, had commercials.
He considers Lane his principal opponent.
Melnick met briefly with Fredericksburg Mayor Lawrence Davies, to whom he explained his plan to establish a consumer newsletter if elected. He also said he would create a seperate division in the attorney general's office for consumer cases. Ideally the department should be completely independent from the attorney general's, he said, because the attorney general must also represent the state agencies with whom the consumer is often in conflict.
At different points during the day Melnick also stressed waht he feels are his opponents' inadequacies. "John Schell had no experience in government," he said several times. "He didn't even bother to join a local bar association. Ed Lane has spent his whole career on hte Corporations, Insurance and Banking Committee or the Appropraitions Committee. He'd make a great budget director. . . ."