Two events will take place in the next few days that could mean as much or more than anything else in determining the election of Virginia's next governor. But the public will hear nothing of these events, for they will unfold behind closed doors, among a dozen or so persons sworn to secrecy.
In these few days, Republican Attorney General Marshall Coleman and Democratic Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb will huddle with their campaign managers and consultants, examine the results of recent polls, and decide what political advertisements Virginians will see on their television screens between now and November.
Before the race is over, the two candidates each plan to spend more than $2 million electronically selling their campaigns for the governor's office. The big money indicates to what an extraordinary degree the Virginia campaign will be one of images, and the responsibility for crafting and packaging those images has been given to two of the most prominent media magicians in the nation -- Democratic consultant Robert Squier and the Republican firm of Bailey, Deardourff & Associates.
Theirs is the job of defining and perhaps redefining the candidates, gently massaging the Virginia consciousness with sounds, sights and impressions. This process will begin within the next 30 days when the first advertisements appear on screens from Alexandria to Bristol.
How will Squier portray Charles Robb -- perceived by some as aloof, unimaginative and indecisive -- as a leader beloved by his people and capable of decisions that will keep Virginia on a well-defined course for the next four years?
How will Bailey and Deardourff present Marshall Coleman -- viewed by some as agressive modern and youthfully ambitious -- as the logical heir to the mantle of austere conservative statesmanship that has guided the Old Dominion for more than a decade?
Without the polling data on which Squier and Bailey, Deardourff will rely, it is impossible to predict what the multimillion-dollar television campaign will look like. But in this, the first of a series of occasional articles on the image-making of Virginia's gubernatorial candidates, we attempt to foreshadow what is in store through the eyes of two consultants familiar with the state's politics but involved in this campaign.
Robert Goodman , a veteran Baltimore-based Republican consultant and film maker, was given Coleman. Jill Buckley, a seasoned Washington-based Democratic consultant, was given Robb. They were asked the same basic question: What would be your media strategy?