Virginia Democrat Andrew P. Miller charged yesterday that "an alarming pattern" of deception is emerging in the campaign of his Republican opponent, John W. Warner, and said personal integrity is becoming a major issue in their race for the U.S. Senate.
In campaign appearances in Richmond and Petersburg, Miller accused Warner of trying to mislead the voters of Virginia about the Republican's appeals to organized labor, his past support of Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.), and the extent of his reliance on personal wealth in the campaign.
In Richmond, Warner campaign spokesman Bill Kling said yesterday that Warner had made no misstatements in the incidents cited by Miller.
"These are not isolated incidents," Miller said later, en route to Smithfield. "They are part of a basic lack of candor . . . an alarming pattern that has begun to permeate his entire campaign."
They reflect, he said, "a very casual attitude toward the truth" that Miller said he intends "to emphasize very strongly" in the weeks ahead.
The attacks on Warner were the sharpest yet in the campaign for Miller, who, throughout his political career, has generally avoided using harsh rhetoric against his opponents.
They come at a time when polls show Warner narrowing Miller's lead in the race, but also causing concern among his supporters with his sometimes erratic public statements.
Warner startled many of his backers on Sept. 15 when he endorsed Gerald Ford for the 1980 GOP presidential nomination only days before Ronald Reagan, regarded as another contender, was to campaign for Warner in Virginia.
"I wanted to tie a rock around my neck and sink out of sight as soon as I heard about it," said one Richmond Republican.
Miller said there was nothing significant in the timing of his charges, which he said were triggered largely by Warner statements last week.
Campaigning yesterday in Petersburg, Miller told a questioner on a radio in show that Warner had promised, in August to put any significant amount of his considerable personal wealth into his campaign, but had already pumped in $125,000.
Warner's most recent financial disclosure report, required by federal law, shows that he completed the borrowing of $125,000 for his campaign in his own name on Sept. 7, one day before he met with a group of Washington Post reporters and editors.
At that meeting, the GOP candidate said, "Now I have made it very clear that I do not intend to put out that magnitude of dollars," a reference to the more than $491,000 he had spent in his initial campaign for the nomination.
He acknowledged that he had "put in some of my own money" since he was nominated by the GOP Central Committee on Aug. 12 to replace the late Richard D. Obenshain. "I have about $50,000 in it now and I expect there'll be some more tomorrow," he said.
Seven months earlier, Warner told a Post Reporter in an interview in Richmond that he would not "try to spend an enormous sum of money" to win the GOP Senate nomination because it would be "unfair" to his opponents.
At the time of the Feb. 9 interview, reports filed later showed, he already had put more than $91,000 of his own money into the GOP convention contest and was embarked on a course of personal borrowing and spending that would leave him with a total convention campaign debt of more than $491,000.
Warner's total spending of more than $574,000 for his losing bid for the nomination was the largest amount ever spent on a convention race in Virginia. His personal contribution that resulted from paying off the $491,000 in loans was the biggest recorded individual outlay for a political race ever in the state.
His convention spending far exceeded the combined totals of his three Republican opponents, who raised most of their money from contributions.
Warner spokesman Kling said it is "unfair" to hold a candidate responsible for precise knowledge of campaign finance status at any moment. "The candidate is encouraged by everyone to think about outreach to the voters and not to focus on the nuts and bolts of the campaign," he said.
Kling said it is inaccurate to consider loans to Warner as personal contributions by him to his campaign. "We have every intention of covering these loans with contributions," he said. "John also spoke truthfully when he said during the convention campaign that he had no intention of putting his own money into the race. He fully expected those loans to be covered by contributions. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way."
Miller also cited yesterday a Warner speech last Friday in Norfolk in which Warner said he did not have and did not want the support of organized labor. Warner failed to mention, Miller charged, meetings between Warner and AFL-CIO officials at which he appealed for support, "not only of the (organized labor) leadership but of the membership as well."
Warner told reporters after his Norfolk speech that he "had no memory" of asking for the labor endorsement last summer.
Julian Carper, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO, said in an interview yesterday that he believes Warner's statements about the labor endorsement and other incidents "are beginning to establish a question of credibility."
To rebut the GOP candidate's claim that he did not want the labor endorsement, Carper quoted these questions and answers in an Aug. 18 interview of Warner by a screening committee of the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE.):
Q - Do you really want an open endorsement from the AFL-CIO?
Warner - The support of not only the leadership but the rank and file.
Q - If you get the endorsement and our opponent made an attack on labor, how would you rebut the attack?
Warner - I don't see how people could denounce labor support and if labor is attacked, I would handle it on an issue-by-issue basis.
Of the AFL-CIO endorsement, Kling said, Warner "stated his positions to the screening committee knowing full well that they were positions they would not like to hear. When he said he didn't want their endorsement, he was saying that he wouldn't want it if he had to change any of those positions."
When Warner said last week he had voted for popular independent Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. in 1970, Miller said, the Republican failed to mention he contributed $1,000 to Byrd's GOP opponent that year, Del. Ray Garland of Roanoke.
Warner's contribution is documented in the office of the clerk of the U.S. Senate which shows no Warner contribution that year to Byrd.
Of the Byrd-Garland affair, Kling said that Warner, like other Republicans, had supported Garland at the outset but voted for Byrd when he realized that the Republican would not be a factor in the race.
Miller predicted yesterday that the last 10 days of the campaign would see a Warner media blitz in excess of the $250,000 last-ditch effort in 1972 that helped elect Sen. William L. Scott, the present incumbent, and warned of the possibility of "another six years of that kind of representation for Virginia."