With hopeful hallelujahs and the blessing of former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, Virginia Democrats launched their fall campaign for the state house over the weekend, proclaiming the gospel of party unity - reborn through necessity - and Henry Howell.
Campaigning jointly from the boardwalk at Virginia Beach to the hills of Abingdon, the "Raibow Ticket" of Howell, Lt. Gov., candidate Chuck Robb and Attorney General candidate Ed Lane glad-handed sunbathers and picnickers, insisting that ideological differences among the three are a strength rather than a weaknees.
"I like to stay almost 500,000 people put this ticket together" with their votes in the Democratic primary, said Lane, a Richmond lawyer who for the two decades he served in the General Assembly favored most of the large corporate interests Howell has opposed.
"You really couldn't pick a ticket any better . . . we differ in philosophy to some extent . . . we're not trying to fool anybody on that. But we come from different areas of the state, and if someone were trying to put together a nationalist ticket I don't think they could do any better than this."
Standing beneath the sweeping crape myrtles in Howell's sunlit front yard in Norfolk Saturday, the three men outlined the structure of a campaign expected to draw national attention since Virginia, along with New Jersey, is one of only two states in the nation with statewide elections this year.
President Jimmy Carter, an old Howell friend, is expected in to campaign for the Democrats next month at a $1,000-a-couple picnic, and former President Gerald R. Ford is expected in on behalf of Republican John Dalton.
Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, Robb's mother-in-law, is expected to travel the state on his behalf, and actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose husband, John Warner of Middleburg, is running for the U.S. Senate next year, hsd been appearing at GOP fundraisers.
Howell conceded the cost of tickets to the President picnic was "a little high for a Populist picnic," but he said, "It won't be high for those who can afford to come" and noted that "this is a way we can fund our campaign."
"The Republicans are going to raise $2 million, and they're going to conceal what they have. We don't need $2 million, but we could use $800,000," he said.
The campaign embarked for Virginia Beach after the Press Conference. Proceeded by 10 "Rainbow Girls," 10 advance men, Rep. Herb Harris (D. Va.) and former Fairfax Democratic Committee chairman Jane Vitray, the candidates swept up the boardwalk leafleting adtonished sun seekeds, at least half of whom came from somewhere like New York or Arizona.
At the Virginia Beach fishing pier, Howell burst into OCean Eddie's Sea Food ("steamed crabs, king crabs, cracked crabs, soft crabs and deviled crabs") and announced loudly "this is the first time in the history of the world the Virginia Democratic ticket has campaigned together on this fishing pier.
Then, while reporters and campaign workers grabbed beer and soft crabs on the run, the candidates marched on toward the beach blankets outside.
While Howell and Lane worked their way through the frisbees, beach umbrellas and 90-degree heat wearing the dress shirt, necktie and dark slacks of the doctriniare Virginia politician, candidate Robb added a touch of Rainbow ticket diversity by campaigning on the beach in a stripped T-shirt and white tennis shorts.
Alone, Robb lagged a little behind, saying little but smiling more, shaking twice as many hands, and drawing double takes from bikini-clad young women with his lean phsique and chiseled features.
"Henry's already go the sweaty sun-bathers."I won't add the benediction. I just came over to say hello. I'm Chuck Robb, I hope you have a good day."
The reaction to him was not always political. One lotion-lathered lovely in a low cut black tank suit, confronted by Robb suddenly in the crowd, eyes him slowly and appreciatively from his stripped Addidas sneakers to his carefully styled dark hair.
"Oooooh," she purred as he said hello. "I'm all oily."
While Robb carved out his own identity with the ticket. Lane and iHowell remained drawn together by the sort of ironic political necessity that overshadows party ties.
Lane badly needs the votes of Howell's blue-collar supports around the state, voters who don't know the Richmond legislator and might be suspicious of his conservative political record if they did.
Howell has little real hope oo o o getting support from Lane's wealthy business power base in Richmond, many of whom have already endorsed Dalton.
By holding out the prospect of delivering votes to Lane in Hampton Roads and elsewhere, however, Howell and his supports hope to prevent or diffuse what they fear most - the sort of high-powered multimedia scare campaign used against Howeell by Lane-minded conservatives in the past: a campaign that pictures the firey Norfolk populists as the architects of total social and economic upheaval iiin the Commonwealth.
Four years ago in the midst of a bitter busing battle against Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr., Howell described that kind of campaign: "They take long fingernails," he said " and dig into the wounds of people."
Just how successful the Rainbows ticket strategy will remains to be seen, but this weekend some soft spots were already apparent.
Sunday the ticket appeared before 1,500 black Virginians assembled in Hampton Roads Coliseum for the 61st Annual holy convocation of Churches of God in Christ.
In an effort to make Lane, who supported school closing policies of massive resistance to school desagregation in the 1950s, more acceptable to the audience, Howell's staff prepared a statement in which Lane told the convocation he was "strong for human rights" and would "not toletrate discrimination in Virginia's state government.
Lane never gave that statement. Instead in his brief speech to the convocation he promised only to be "guided by Christian principles" in his operations of the attoney general's office.
Robb and Howell worked the crowd at the Coliseum carefully, but Lane stood back for the most part withamiable detachment. Finally, as Lane was ignoring a lineup of 56 ministers and an equal number of church women about to enter the hall, Jane Vitray hissed sharply, "For god's sake, Ed, get over there and shake those hands."
The theme of the convocation, however, was "all of one accord," and Bishop Samuel L. Green Jr., of Hampton, a long-time Howell supporter, sought to play down differences among the candidates.
Green brought forward former Black Panter leader Eldridge Cleaver to show the change of hear possible for the human spirit.
Clever, once the apostle of black rage and violence in the United States, said hig eight years of travel around the world had convinced him he was totally and terriby wrong.
He said the changes in this country ("the whole Nixon government got busted . . . a black judge upped my bail!" together with the oppression he witnessed around the world ("of black people by black people . . . there weren't any whit people around" helped bring about his religious conversion and change of heart.
"When I see what's happening here in Virginia . . . a former slave state ... the state of (black slave rebel) Nat Turner . . . I know the United States with all its faults is still the freest nation on earth"