Virginia Republican Senate candidate John W. Warner acknowledged yesterday distributing campaign literature that misstates his role in past political campaigns.
Warner was asked about the literature during the taping of the first of four televised debates between him and his Democratic opponent, Andrew P. Miller, here yesterday.
The one-hour debate, which is to be televised at 7:30 p.m. today on WJLA-TV, Channel 7, also saw Miller back away from supporting President Carter for reelection in 1980.
"The president has said he hasn't made up his mind whether he's going to run, so I'm going to reserve judgment," Miller said in response to a question.
It appeared to put further distance between Miller and Carter, who supported Henry E. Howell, Miller's opponent, in last year's contest for the Democratic nomination for governor. "I was not an early supporter of him, and consequently we haven't been close on a personal basis," Miller said of Carter.
Warner's acknowledgement that his literature might be misleading came when he was pressed on statements in the campaign materials that imply his appointment as under secretary and then secretary of the Navy during the Nixon administration had nothing to do with partisan politics.
Former Gov. Linwood Holton, a co-chairman of Warner's campaign, has told associates in the past that in January 1969 he interceded on Warner's behalf with Nixon aides John Mitchell and John Erlichman when it appeared that John Chaffee of Rhode Island would be named secretary of the Navy. Holton said Warner paid his way to New York to intercede. Warner ultimately was named under secretary of the Navy under Chaffee and succeeded Chafee later.
Yesterday Warner was also pressed on a claim in campaign materials that he has worked on behalf of other candidates without "asking for a trade-off in return."
"I think perhaps you've caught a phrase that, we could tighten it, if it's misleading" he said. Warner then said that the trade-off statement applied only to the last two years of his political activity.
"The campaign literature is only addressing the period of time that I've been active in the Virginia political circle since 1976," he said.
Warner and Miller sat together at a table occasionally interruptin each others' answers as they were questioned by a panel of four reporters.
Warner seized the offensive when a "senator's Club" for contributors of $1,000, the maximum individual contribution allowed under federal law.
Saying that the club might become a special-interest forum, Warner said, "It makes no difference whether a man or woman has contributed to my campaign. My door in the Senate will always be open." Miller later said that his "Senator's Club" meetings would be open to the press.
Warner also was forced to back off from a statement that he is not seeking funds from out of state. The issue arose when Miller was asked about his fund-raising activities in Florida and an upcoming appearance in New York.
Warner then asserted that he would "not be going out of state to raise money. I will personally spend every minute of my time working with and listening to Virginians".
But under questioning, Warner conceded that his wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, would be making appearances out of state, and that he himself had attended fund-raising gatherings in the District of Columbia.
He said that his wife's appearances had been scheduled before he got the nomination following the death of Richard Obenshain the GOP's initial nominee. His appearance in Washington since August had been on behalf of the Republican National Committee, Warner said.
Asked whether anyone else was raising funds for him in Washington, Warner replied: "Oh, sure, in Washington. After all, Washington is where we're going to come to work in the Senate."
Much of the debate was low-keyed and saw the two candidates vie to prove who was more representative of Virginia. Miller was questioned over the use of bringing in outsiders to help in the campaign, Warner stressed that he had built a staff of Virginians to help him. "I don't need a staff to make sure I carry the Virginia philosphy," Miller countered.
Neither candidate broke new ground on the issues that have dominated their previous speeches. Miller and Warner both emphasized the conservative fiscal and economic policies that are considered popular in much of Virginia.
At one point, when they were aksed to name their personal choices for the presidency in 1980, and Miller appeared to shun Carter, Warner named former president Ford, a statement that could cause some discomfort among his staff. Ronald Reagan, considered a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1980, is scheduled to campaign for Warner in Richmond Wednesday.
Warner and Miller appeared relatively at ease during the debate, and they sparred occasionally in a friendly manner.
Perhaps because it was their first major debate, the appearance drew a score of reporters and cameramen from around Virginia.
But since the recording studio was closed to all except four of them and a moderator, the rest retreated to a viewing room, where film cameramen resorted to taking shots of reporters watching the candidates on television.
Three more televised debates are scheduled, the next one Tuesday night in Norfolk.