To Jill Buckley, a Democratic political consultant, the first apparent weakness Charles S. Robb will have to deal with in his media campaign is an imge of indecisiveness. Buckley, like most media wizard, takes pride in turning apparent weaknesses into strengths, and she thinks it could be done with Robb.
"What you do with Robb," she says, "is forget all the 'Man of Virginia' kind of crap and all the bands and patriotism and go straight to using a lot of him, of him being very forceful."
Buckley envisions several television advertisements showing Robb the leader, wowing crowds with his forcefulness. "I think where Robb suffers is that unless you show him dealing with problems and with people himself, that saying it about him won't work. If you've got a problem like indecisiveness, you can't get an announcer on there saying Chuck Robb is decisive and look what he did. It's something he has to project."
So Buckley would film Robb speaking to crowds or intimate groups. He would pound the podium with conviction. And he would say: "If there's one thing I know it's that we have to do this and there's no if, ands or buts. oI'm just sure that it's right as anything in the world."
"You put him in a situation where he sounds specific, committed and as though he really believes in something," explains Buckley. "What you're questioning is something deeper than whether he can decide. It's whether he has any inner core that would direct him any which way."
To develop Robb's image of decisiveness might take some coaching, Buckley says, but Robert Squier, Robb's hired-gun consultant, is considered one of the best coaches in the business.
"Maybe he's scheduled to give a speech on something you think might be appropriate [to film for a commercial]," says Buckley."You work with him, you coach him on that speech and you shoot the speech and you shoot crowd reaction. You may not get it, but at least you have a better chance than just following him around for the golden moment. People used to do that more when film was less expensive. But I think you might do that forever with Chuck Robb."
One of the first questions Marshall Coleman is likely to raise in the campaign is why anyone in his right mind would want to kick the Republicans out at this point when things are going so well. Buckley turns that attack around: Who's the best man to carry on the Old Dominion's conservative tradition? Another series of Robb ads might look like this one:
A sunbaked farmer, his brow chiseled by years of toil, leans against his tractor wheel, his John Deere cap pushed back of his forehead. Behind him, a field of lush tobacco sways in a summer breeze.
"I like the way things are going in Virginia," the farmer drawls. "I live here, and I'm a Republican. But picking a governor is an important decision. The man you choose is more important than the party he belongs to. That's why I'm voting for Chuck Robb. Because I think he's a man I can trust."
"One way Robb might make that transition between [party affiliation and] who best carries on a good tradition is to have the man on the street commercials with people saying how happy they are but are going to vote for Robb anyway," says Buckley. "The more and more one sees, voting for the party in Virginia is not critical to many people's decision. So it isn't a matter of throwing a party out. It isn't a repudiation of Dalton or anything. In fact, maybe one thing Robb might be well advised to say is that John Dalton has not been such a bad guy after all."
But perhaps the most exciting action of the campaign won't be seen at all. That will be between Bob Squier and Charle Robb as the veteran image-maker struggles to wrest the enigmatic wraps off his candidate.
If it happens -- and political insiders say it must and it will -- it could make some of the most arresting political television in years.
"If Chuck Robb has a problem," says Buckley, "it's because we know an awful lot about him, but we don't really know who he is. Here's a candidate that we probably know more about than nine-tenths of the people who run for anything except president. And yet, what is he, really? And you get the feeling from being with the man that you don't know. He comes across as very, very controlled.
"Chuck has always seemed to be the sort of mechanical man that I imagine you could really get under and cause him to get angry. One thing you always look for is the guy who will respond badly or lose his temper."
"It would probably be worth it to show the man as he really is, which is really the filmmakers' job," says Democratic organization maven Matt Reese, a friend of both Coleman and Squier. "People in office build up a facade because they're picked at so much. But I think Robb would be difficult to handle because he's very determined and really very knowledgeable. d
"I would tell him [Squire] he's in for an emotional relationship. But I think it will be good for both of them."