Ira Lechner and Erwin (Shad) Solomon, two Democrats seeking nominations for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, demonstrated mastery of an elementary political lesson last week -- how to play to your strengths.
Lechner, a liberal Arlington Democrat and former delegate, knows he can expect few, if any, votes from the arch-conservative fundamentalists of Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority Coalition. So, in announcing his candidacy for lieutenant governor, Lechner aimed for the large group of voters the polls show are uneasy about the coalition by becoming the first candidate to criticize Falwell.
Solomon, a consumer-oriented but decidedly unphotogenic former prosecutor from Bath County in western Virginia,clearly is a man with little chance of running for governor. So in his announcement, Solomon made a point of proclaiming he would not use the attorney general's office as a steppingstone to a compaign for the governor's mansion as two recent attorney generals, Andrew Miller and J. Marshall Coleman, have done.
To some observers these ploys were smart strategy; to others, just gimmicks.
But they grabbed headlines and demonstrated that Lechner and Solomon, considered dark horses by many, will be tough candidates whom opponents would be wise not to underestimate.
While Virginia's two likely gubernatorial nominees -- Coleman and Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb -- wait patiently on the sidelines, candidates like Lechner, Solomon and Republican state Sen. Herbert Bateman of Newport News, who last week announced that he is a candidate for lieutenant governor, have begun a mad dash for their parties' nominations.
Lechner faces an uphill fight againstformer state Democratic chairman Richard Davis. Last nomth, Davis announced that he, too, will seek the nomination for lieutenant governor. Heis considered to have a lock on the party's conservative-to-moderate faction, whose titular leader is Robb. Politically moderate State Sen. Dudley (Buzz) Emick of Fincastle also is expected to run for lieutenant governor, a move that could make Davis' position even more secure by splitting his opposition.
Members of the conservative Democratic faction are considered likely to favor Del. Gerald Baliles of Richmond for attorney general, although Solomon is expected to make some inroads into Baliles' conservative support and has enough financial backing to be given a 50-50 chance to win the nomination. Baliles has yet to announce his candidacy formally.
Whoever wins will face a tough November fight against former Fairfax delegate Wyatt Durrette, a conservative Republican who has no opposition for the GOP party's nomination and who will have the party's legendary financial resources and vote-getting machinery behind him. Durrette has made it no secret that he would like to occupy the governor's mansion someday, and many Republicans expect to see him there.
Republicans will have a more spiritedbattle for lieutenant governor with Bateman going up against state Sen. Nathan Miller of Rochingham and Warrenton attorney Guy O. Farley, a former Fairfax delegate. Miller and Bateman are expected to divide the party's traditional conservative leadership, which could leave the door open for Farley, a born-again Falwell ally, in a contest that will be major test of the strength of the Republican "new right." Farley is expected to announce his candidacy next weekend.
Meanwhile, the main players in this year's electoral drama, Democrat Robb and Republican Coleman, are waiting for the end of the General Assembly session next month before announcing their intentions to run for governor. But both have started raising funds andhave hired campaign advisers in what could be one of the liveliest -- and certainly one of the most expensive -- gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia history.