For the last weekend of Virginia's rancorous race for governor, Democrat Charles S. Robb and Republican J. Marshall Coleman retreated from the political fury to Northern Virginia partisan crowds, old-time oratory and some Halloween tricks or treats.
Robb, the 42-year-old lieutenant governor trying to win back the governor's mansion for the Democrats after 12 years of Republican occupancy, spent the afternoon in an Alexandria television studio before the friendliest crowd a candiate could ask for. With his 3-year-old daughter sucking her thumb beside him, and the rest of his family sitting in the audience with some of the state's highest ranking Democratic office holders, Robb was gently offered questions about the economy, crime and alleged Republican conflict of interest.
Coleman spent the day in equally loving company. In the morning, he attended the launching of a nuclear-powered submarine in Newport News. He then flew to Northern Virginia for a midday appearance billed as an "Old Time Rally" at Fairfax High School before 300 GOP workers and three of the state's Republican congressmen.
Both Robb and Coleman conceded that their campaigns had been blemished in the final weeks by negative ads and personal attacks. But both blamed the other for dragging the race to that level.
"Don't be put off by the last minute shenanigans," said Robb, referring to Republican attempts to paint him as a liberal dressed in gray, conservative cloth. "They are old scare tactics . . . regrettably they take place," the Democrat added in a speech that will be telecast across the state.
Coleman joked to his audience that Robb was trying to recover his standing as a Virginia gentleman by laying all the blame for the mudslinging at Coleman's door. "He said the devil made him do it," said Coleman to the applause of a crowd that also heard a dozen Republican leaders promise that despite recent polls Coleman will win Tuesday's election.
Robb took the first half of his 30-minute show, which will be aired locally on WTTG (Channel 5)
Robb then answered questions from an audience that had been told to shed its Democratic buttons and badges before the taping began. The one black family in the audience of about 100 people, was moved from obscure corner seats to seats in front of the camera.
"I just love their attention to detail," said Chris Spanos, a former administrative assistant to Herbert E. Harris, one of Northern Virginia's two Democratic congressmen defeated last year.
When asked about the "shocking conflict of interest charges" against the Republican lieutenant governor candidate Nathan H. Miller, Robb said Virginia "needs to set forth very specific 'thou shalts' and 'thou shalt nots.' "
About the same time, Miller was telling a supportive Republican crowd in Fairfax that his political enemies had underestimated his grit. "They thought I was going to back off," said Miller denouncing allegations that he used his Senate seat to pass legislation favorable to his law clients
"They thought I was going to flinch. But when you're right . . . you're gonna fight," he said to thunderous applause.
Richard J. (Dick) Davis, Miller's Democratic opponent and the former mayor of Portsmouth, said he is looking forward to campaign's end. Waiting in the lobby of the Alexandria television studio for Robb, who was 45 minutes late for his own show, Davis allowed himself one long, tired breath.
"You've made your best pitch," said the white haired Davis. "It gets to the point you begin to feel somewhat redundant."
After his appearance in Fairfax, Coleman flew to Norfolk for a campaign stop there and Robb returned to his McLean home to go trick-or-treating with his three daughters.