As if roused by the changing hues of the Alleghenies and the falling temperature of the lower James, Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin awoke from political hibernation in early October and began his dignified charge.
In successive press conferences, he said he was appalled by the "name-calling campaign" of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Henry E. Howell, feared that his election on Nov. 8 would undermine business growth in the state, and said Howell's proposed program could not be financed without a general tax increase or a major cut in existing state services.
For these reasons, he said, he would intensify his campaign for Republican nominee John N. Dalton, now the state's lieutenant governor.
At a second press conference, Godwin said Howell's proposals are "too nebulous" for an exact price tag, but would cost "many millions." He said they could never be financed by increases in special taxes or by closing tax Godwin then released a campaign schedule that listed 11 appearances for Dalton in the last weeks of the campaign and reserved three full days just before the election for partisan stumping.
Clearly, Mills Godwin was on the move and moving with a sense of timing that is likely to maximize his potential impact on the vote, whatever it may be.
Godwin and his old foe, Howell, are two of the state's most effective campaigners and each has a distinctive political style that sets him apart from the crowd of office seekers.
In Howell, it is the ability, abetted by a flair for phrasemaking, to attract press and voter attention to a popular cause. In Godwin, it is the ability, abetted by a restrained manner, to move in rhythm with the political seasons of a singularly conservative southern state.
Godwin has survived some of Virginia's most decisive upheavals in race relations, party politics and tax and borrowing policy to become the only person ever elected governor twice, once as a Democrat and once as a Republican.
He has done it without the guidance of sophisticated polls and advisers. There are no Patrick Caddells or Hamilton Jordans charting the Godwin course. He has instead done it with an uncanny personal sense that tells him when his conservative constituency will accept a new day and when his opponents can best be exposed to the electorate's fear of the unknown and the unsettling.
When Dalton's campaign director, William A. Royall was asked months ago what role Godwin would play in this campaign, he answered with fitting deference:
"When the time comes, he will tell us. The man has a perfect sense of what is appropriate to do in Virginia politics and when is the appropriate time to do it."
During the long summer between the Democratic primary and the earnest campaigning of October, while Dalton and Howell were flailing at one another, Godwin found it appropriate to lie low. The governor spent his time cultivating support for a state bond issue among editorial writers and chambers of commerce. Then he went to Europe to promote industrial investment in Virginia.
While he was gone, President Carter made a triumphants swing through the state on Howell's behalf. It was apparently a success, but it came seven weeks before the election and will almost certainly have to be repeated to keep the Howell-Carter connection alive in voters minds.
By the time Mills Godwin returned and found it appropriate to make his first move, Howell's own supporters had raised press expectations by frequently asking reporters, "What do you think the governor will do?"
When he told them what he was going to do, the Howell campaigners and the candidate himself chided Godwin for not continuing to give his full attention to passage of the bond issue. It was the first sign of the psychological impact the governor was having on the campaign.
And that is not the end of it. The glitter of a President trip is bright, but it passes. Governors, like presidents, command headlines and television time in their domains. Godwin's first partisan statement saturated the media markets outside of Northern Virginia and will continue to do so. That is where 80 per cent of Virginia's 5 million people get their news.
By the time Godwin spoke, the Howell campaign had turned faintly defensive. The day before the second Godwin press conference, the Democrat found himself in Fairfax County explaining his statements in favor of higher taxes on upper incomes. The affluent residents of Fairfax report 29 per cent of all income earned in Virginia.
The next night in Covington, he found himself before gun-loving western Virginians defending his position on gun control in the face of attacks by Dalton, the National Rifle Association, and other hunting enthusiasts.
Controversial statements on taxes, gund controls, busing, Collective bargaining for public employees, compulsory union memberships - this is the baggage that burdened Henry Howell in two unsuccessful campaigns for governor. He has moderated many of those statements in this race and it looked for a while as if he could avoid the controversies they caused in the past. However, the controversies emerged again, and when they did, there was Mills Godwin, too.
Uncanny is the only word for it.