On Day Two of Virginia's gubernatorial word wars:
Democratic radio ads tag Republican J. Marshall Coleman as "a regular gymnast when it comes to taxes -- he's trying to flip, flop, flip."
Coleman counters, telling Democrat Charles S. Robb to "drop the facade of an above-the-mud candidacy" and call off his "increasingly irresponsible" surrogate campaign that questions Coleman's integrity and calls for his resignation as state attorney general.
It was the second straight day of hot rhetoric and cold warfare in a close contest for governor that, with six weeks to go, has grown increasingly bitter and negative. While the Coleman camp claimed Robb was distorting the facts, Robb's campaign aides contended they were simply fighting fire with fire.
"The distortions are evidence of a desperate campaign," Coleman spokesman David Blee said. Retorted Robb press aide George Stoddart: "Coleman's the one who sounds pretty desperate to me." Stoddart described Coleman's speech today in which he refused to resign as "a lot like Nixon speeches when he wouldn't resign."
Yesterday, in a contrasting pair of 60-second radio spots the two candidates accused each other of being soft on marijuana use and drug pushers. The Coleman spot even whimsically suggested that "it's enough to make you wonder what Robb's been smoking." Today, Robb took to the airwaves again with a commercial lumping Coleman in with politicians who "turn and twist and flip with every change in the political winds."
The ad cites a 1980 Coleman newsletter supporting Gov. John N. Dalton's proposed 4 percent increase in state gasoline taxes and contrasts it with Coleman's campaign pledge -- "in a year when taxes are out of fashion" -- to veto any state tax increase. It also points out that Coleman recently said he might exclude toll roads from that pledge.
"Coleman hopes we're not smart enough to figure out that tolls are taxes -- taxes in disguise," says the 60-second spot, which is being run on radio stations across the state.
The ad's author, Robb media consultant Robert Squier, said the spot is another attempt by Robb to demonstrate to voters "the wide gulf between what Coleman would like people to believe about his positions and the reality."
The Coleman camp quickly responded with an eight-page paper outlining nine alleged Robb flip-flops on tax issues. "He's changed three times already on President Reagan's tax-cut program alone," Coleman said. "First he opposed it, then he supported it, now he says he opposes it again."
Coleman also lashed out with a speech calling on Robb "to call off his surrogates" who have regularly attacked Coleman in recent weeks for refusing to resign from the attorney general's office while campaigning.
While Robb has criticized Coleman for staying in office, he has not called for his resignation. But other Democrats have, including former attorneys general Andrew Miller and Anthony Troy, in press conferences that have become weekly events here.
The pace of the attacks picked up last week when Coleman's office investigated conflict-of-interest charges against state Highway Commissioner William Wrench, a Coleman campaign contributor.
Coleman sought to turn the tables today, saying attacks by Robb's "cronies" were weakening "public confidence in a major arm of government. . . I can handle any attacks on Marshall Coleman, but I am a little concerned that the attacks on the office of attorney general may leave a wound in Virginia." Coleman said after the speech that "the Virginia way is to speak for yourself and that's not something Mr. Robb is willing to do."
Robb campaign aides say they are using surrogates and negative ads to counteract the Republican direct-mail campaign, in which Dalton and other leading Republicans have attempted to tie the conservative Robb to his late father-in-law, President Lyndon Johnson, and Great Society-style big governemt.
A Robb campaign official, who asked not to be identified, said "Republicans have won this state over and over again by relying on negative direct mail. If Chuck just goes around the state being Mr. Nice Guy and does nothing to fight back, he'll lose."
Following Coleman's speech, given before the Virginia Correctional Association meeting here, another Robb surrogate surfaced. Fairfax County prosecutor Robert F. Horan, a Democrat, told the group that Coleman's proposed uniform sentencing plan for convicted felons was "uniformly misleading."
Horan said Coleman's plan contained loopholes that were "a lawyer's delight" and accused the attorney general of oversimplifying the state's crime problem. Horan said Robb, on the other hand, "fully understands we're talking about a complex phenomenon."