"Howell!" shouted the candidate at a hatchet-faced old man in bib overalls, standing amid the acre of rusty pick axes, live ducks, second-hand bedpans, old phonograph records and pink china figurines for sale at the flea market in Altavista.
The old man glared at him malevolently but didn't seem to hear.
"HOWELL I'M HENRY HOWELL'. I'M RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF ME?"
The stare grew darker as Howell continued shouting, his lips only inches from the old man's ear.
"I'm running on my record. If the other fellow's got a better record, you vote for him, but if my record's better, you vote for Henry, you hear?"
The old man apparently didn't, but the candidate was already gone, threading his way through the tables of old skillets and broken toasters, working the crowd of several hundred people with the style and patter of a carnival pitchman.
With only nine days remaining before the June 14 Democratic Primary, it's hard to tell who is hearing Henry Howell.
His campaign against former attorney general Andrew P. Miller careens through the state like a driverless car, hopelessly short of financial fuel, bucking erratic scheduling, yet propelled by the considerable force of the candidate's own ebullient personality.
He has no money for television, little for radio and part of his staff has been working without pay. His crowds often have been disappointingly small and their response tepid to his wellworn call to remembrancees of accomplishments past.
Yet out of it all has come a sort of hopeful fatalism in the former lieutenant governor about the course of the election, and a renewed Howell vigor for campaigning itself.
"Good morning sir," he said to a sunburned man at the Altavista flea market. "That's a fine looking ax handle you have there. Bought it for your wife? Fine. Here, I want to give you a copy of my campaign newspaper. There's a picture of Jimmy Carter in it. He came to visit us in 1975. That's Jimmy there, hugging my wife Betty, and that's me saying 'Jimmy, don't hug Betty so tight,' and that's Betty saying, 'Hush, Henry, I like it.' Betty and I sleep in the same bed the President slept in whenever I get home. But right now I'm here in Altavista because I need your vote. I can't win without it."
"Stick with me," he told Steve Cohan, 35, of Amherst, who said he voted for Howell four years ago. "I haven't gotten any worse. I'm just a little older and I've learned a little more."
At the flea market, Howell bought 10 antique portraits that cost $5, a copy of the essays of Montaigne ($1), and an antique washboard ($5). He also managed to use as a straight man a 6-week old goat ("one of the better goats I've seen today."), a 25-pound rabbit, ("don't make him mad") and a young couple with a very small baby in arms and another very obviously on the way.
"It looks," he told the couple, "like you haven't had time to register."
Then Howell was off by car to Roanoke where he gamely led a parade of 16 straw-hatted supporters through the nearly deserted downtown streets to a crowded art show and festival in the city park.
In mid-afternoon, Howell stood on the tarmac at Roanoke's Woodrum Airport like a big game hunter who had bagged an elephant. Next to him was parked a 10-passenger turbine-powered airplane, an aircraft loaned to him by a strip mine operator, J.D. Neiswiender, for the flight to Abingdon. It came complete with full bar, ice machine, tables, playing cards, magazine rack and telephone. The candidate was beaming.
"I want you to look at this airplane and tell me we don't have a prosperous campaign," he said. After takeoff, he mixed everybody drinks, opened a can of cocktail nuts, and instructed press secretary Frank Bolling to call Mrs. Bolling on the telephone and say "something impressive from high over Virginia.
"These coal operators have it," he said "we are going to have to get with the big boys after all."
By Abingdon, Howell was feeling expansive. He disembarked and played the washboard briefly ("they won't like that in Northern Virginia, but when you have to play a washboard, you just have to play.") and headed toward a bronze Cadilac owned by Mayor Eugene Haines of nearby Glade Springs. "I sold my gas guzzler so you can keep yours. I like to ride in them when I land," Howell said. He waved away offers of help with his luggage: "Jimmy Carter requires me to carry at least three items."
By midnight, Howell had loudly greeted diners in the Mountain Empire Restaurant to the cool displeasure of the hostess ("I think that lady needs a little loving," the candidate said.), been kissed full on the mouth by a jump-suited young woman supporter from a nearby table ("She mack-dabbed me. Her hips were very cool"), and been a shoreshow of Tennessee Walkers where he was mistaken for Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr.
He ended the evening at a $250,000 solar-owered house built atop Little Brushy Mountain near Chilhowie by a mobile home millionaire named L. F. (Hap) Walker, whom he met in a restaurant and whose wife makes an extrordinary drink out of sloe gin, Southern Comfort, and orange juice.
As the moon rose over the Alleghenies like a neon apricot, Howell sat on the Walker's patio under the stars and looked down at the lights winking in the valley below.
"This is the real reward of politics," he said. "There's no other way to have these experiences . . . meet people of all discover this country. If I had never run for office. I'd have died and been buried in Norfolk without ever knowing all this was here."
Miller divided his weekend between campaigning in the Washington suburbs and the Hampton Roads region. At his stops in Northern Virginia, Miller continued to call for a large turnout in the primary and predicted Republican efforts to discourage participation in the balloting "are going to be counterproductive."
Although Miller refrained from attacking Howell directly, five Northern Virginia state senators who are supporting the former attorney general issued a strong statement condemning Howell. " . . . Henry Howell has escalated his rhetoric . . . to the point of personal attack and invective," the senator said.
Led by Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault of Fairfax, the group rejected Howell's charge that Miller is unqualified to be governor and warned that such rhetoric could "endanger the chances of the Democratic nominees in the fall."
Despite some uneasiness in the Miller campaign over whether the candidate himself should respond to some of Howell's latest charges, Miller appeared as relaxed and confident as ever during a Saturday afternoon reception at Brault's home in the Mantua subdivision near Fairfax City. Although Miller is not known as a witty speaker, he got off some of his most humorous lines with aplomb as he repeated his litany of positions on Northern Virginian proposals.
His best line of the day came when he summoned his wife, Doris, to join him as he spoke to the small crowd of about 50 in Brault's backyard. Mrs. Miller scooted to join her husband on a raised patio and announced: "I always do what he tells me."
"Honey," Miller said with a shrug, "let's don't develop a credibility gap issue at this stage of the campaign."