Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry Howell last night virtually conceded that he has dropped behind his opponent, Republican John N. Dalton.
"If you stay at home, I am going to lose," Howell said in a speech prepared for delivery to the Ocean View Democratic Club in Norfolk. "If you turn out, I am going to win."
The six cities of Hampton Roads have provided Howell with the base of his political support in his two previous races for governor and last night Howell said he was confident of carrying the area again on Nov. 8. "My opponent doesn't have the chance of a snow ball in hot frying pan of carrying" the three congressional districts in southeast Virginia Howell said.
In his prepared remarks, however, Howell conceded that "in other sections of the state, the movement to 'Stop Henry Howell' has made headway. It has made headway because of my opponent took the advice of his political advisers and withdrew from public debates."
In his prepared remarks, Howell posed series of questions that he said he would have asked Dalton in a televised debate. "These are but a few of the questions that John Dalton would have struck out on," Howell said. "He knew that his answers would not pass muster. He knew he would lose the election if he had to account to the people of Virginia for his record."
Howell called on Dalton to explain some of the statements made about Howell in Dalton's campaign mailouts, why he has "never appeared to represent the public before the (utility-regulating) State Corporation Commission," and why Dalton at one time favored and the fuel-adjustment clause on electric bills.
While most politicians in the state and Dalton himself said Howell was ahead earlier in the campaign, polls released this week by The Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed Dalton leading Howell, but with large numbers of voters undecided.
In his Norfolk speech, Howell again attacked Dalton's campaign advertising, calling his opponent's mailing "slick, sly letters that have slipped into the mailboxes of close to 500,000 Virginia voters (and) have caused confusion through deceptive and deceitful words."
Campaigning in Northern Virgina, Dalton said yesterday that Howell's charge earlier this week that "interlocking" economic interests are working to defeat him is "just another example" of Howell "trying to divert the attention of the voters away from the real issues of this campaign."
In a speech to the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce during a day of campaigning in Northern Virginia, Dalton repeated his earlier statement that 150 bank directors singled out by Howell for criticism "represent just 1 per cent of all the people that have contributed to my campaign in 1977."
Howell, the Decocratic candidate in the Nov. 8 election, charged earlier this week that the $180,931 contributed by the bankers and utility officers represent "interlocking economic interests" that "through the years . . have dominated the lobbying processes" in the state and had a "substantial impact on the elections . . . and utility regulatory decisions that affect all Virginians."
His championing of consumer interests. Howell said, had prompted the large economic interests in the state to gang up against his campaign for the governorship.
Dalton told the Alexandria businessmen that "applying Mr. Howell's same logic . . . I suppose it would be possible to prove some interlocking relationship or conspiracy exists between farmers, store owners and house wives, or government workers, teachers and senior citizens."
It is these groups, Dalton said, "who make up the overwhelming majority of the people supporting my campaign."
"I have no intention of getting into a last-minute shouting match with Henry Howell," Dalton said. "I read where Mr. Howell and his staff spent seven weeks working on his economic conspiracy theory . . . had they spent the same amount of time on energy, jobs and other issues, the people of Virginia would indeed have been served better."
"Dalton's Alexandria speech was the highlight of a day packed with handshaking at bus stops and interviews with Northern Virginia newspaper editors and radio personalities. Last night he attended a reception in Arlington at the home of attorney Oren R. Lewis JR. and a Dalton rally in the Budweiser warehouse at Boswell's Corner in Stafford County.