Like many gathered in the Bull Moose Room at the Tysons Corner Ramada Inn Friday night, George Stroube had misgivings about the political fund-raiser.
Why would Republican Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton bring Gov. Mills E. Godwin into Northern Virginia to campaign for him, Stroube wondered. A recent political poll by a conservative group shows that Godwin has a negative image in the Washington suburbs - and Stroube conceded that he fears the assessment is correct.
"I don't think Godwin is that popular up here," he said as he and about 200 others awaited Godwin's arrival. "Well," Stroube said a moment later as if answering his own question, "he is the governor of 'our party.'"
Despite those misgivings, Stroube, a Fairfax County service station operator with grease under his fingernails to prove his occupation, was more than willing to plunk down $1,000 so he and his wife could eat miniature hot dogs wrapped in rolls, munch small egg rolls and hear Godwin.
Stroube's willingness to offer Dalton his second $1,000 donation for an event whose impact Stroube questioned, dramatically illustrates what is probably Dalton's strongest asset in the final days of his campaign against Democrat Henry E. Howell: Money and the ability to raise a lot of it quickly.
In the two hours that Dalton and Godwin spent mingling among the guests at the standing buffet, his campaign raised about $40,000, Dalton spokesmen said. That's the same amount of money Howell has reported receiving from a black-tie dinner featuring President Carter a month ago in Williamsburg. That dinner took weeks to organize and involved a cost of thousands of dollars.
Howell's campaign by comparison, has been so pressed for cash in recent weeks that it has taken to describing itself as "financial hard-pressed" in news releases. That is hardly remarkable since virtually all of Howell's other statewide races for public office have been plagued by money problems, and have typically involved last-minute appeals for money to finance television advertising.
Even as his workers were counting the take from the Ramada Inn gathering, Dalton's staff were beginning to speak darkly about Howell mounting such a drive. "He's sent out 17,000 letters, I hear," William A. Royall, Dalton's manager, was saying.
The rumor was correct and, according to Howell's manager, William Rosendahl, the effort had raised $48,000 for Howell by early this week. Still, the current race for governor mirrors what has been historically true of the Democratic Party nationally. It has been consistently outspent by Republicans.
Even with the advantage of a Democratic President in office, the Democratic Party nationally is in financial trouble. In Virginia, Howell's own money troubles ("We're always hard-pressed," a Howell spokesman said Monday) are not unexpected. Much of the state's business community has been openly hostile to him and friendly to his opponents.
But even some aides in the Dalton campaign have privately expressed shock at how narrow Howell's financial base is again this year. More seriously for Howell, his union contributions this year are apparently well behind those of his 1973 race against Godwin.
All of this could add up to a crucial edge for Dalton in Northern Virginia during the final weeks of the campaign. Nowhere in the state is the undecided vote as large as both campaigns have agreed it is in the Washington suburbs.
Dalton has already begun what is likely to be an extensive media campaign in the region, buying prime-time ads around Washington Redskins television games, placing placards in Metro buses, and running a bigger and more costly telephone bank operation than Howell says he can afford.
Even with the success of Howell's recent direct mail solicitation, his manager Rosendahl admits the mailings are coming late in the race and adds he still needs "$120,000 to keep my door open and stay on TV" in the final two weeks of the race.
The Howell campaign will spend about $125,000 on television, but it will be virtually absent from some other forms of advertising such as the buscards and billboards where Dalton is already evident. "I think we have one billboard, given to us by a supporter," Rosendahl said.
Howell's spokesman Frank Bolling contends that even though Howell will be outspent by a large margin, Howell's campaign spending will be more effective than Dalton's. That may take some doing.
One of the most impressive sights on the Dalton campaign trail is ask Royall how much a campaign event will raise and see him whip a pocket calculator from his pocket and instantly figure the evening's take. If the Dalton campaign gives any impressions, inefficiency isn't one of them.