The two Virginia Democrats seeking their party's nomination for governor repeatedly and sometimes sarcastically clashed tonight, accusing each other of spreading falsehoods about their records.
The 90-minute debate between Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis and state Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles generated the sharpest differences of their six debates.
It also produced agreement that the state's Democrats have decided that state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond will be the party's nominee for lieutenant governor in the fall elections and that efforts to block his candidacy have failed.
"I will support the ticket that has already been formed," Davis told a largely friendly home-town crowd of 300. Democrats maneuvering to block Wilder's nomination are wasting their efforts, he said, because the ticket is "a fait accompli."
If Wilder is nominated as the result of mass meetings to be held across the state March 30 and April 1, he will become first black to be nominated for a state office in recent times.
His candidacy has been highly controversial, but both the gubernatorial candidates said tonight that the time has come for the party to accept Wilder's candidacy.
Davis and Baliles also agreed that Wyatt B. Durrette, a Richmond lawyer, will be the Republican nominee for governor rather than Rep. Stan Parris.
Davis, however, seemed to be taken by surprise by Baliles' opening and closing attacks, especially his charges that he has sought the backing of the conservative Moral Majority in his 1980 campaign for lieutenant governor.
Baliles also charged that while Davis was Portsmouth's mayor from 1974 to 1980, education and public health spending were cut. He also charged that Portsmouth had the worst infant mortality rate in the state under Davis.
"If anybody in this room believes that I was a rotten mayor, then don't vote for me for governor," Davis fired back at one point.
He said he was equally perplexed by a Baliles' charge that he once solicited the political support of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.
"I'm a Catholic boy, raised 15 blocks from here and if I went in there seeking their support, they'd throw me out as quick as they could," Davis countered.
The lieutenant governor fired back that Baliles had falsely claimed he had been a consistent supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Davis' backers cited two votes Baliles took while a member of the House of Delegates that showed he did not support the ERA, which never came to a vote there.
Baliles said Davis was wrong and that the "procedural" votes cited did not affect his support of the ERA.
One of the few points of levity in their debate in a high school gymnasium here came when they were asked about a recent federal court ruling that struck down a state law prohibiting unwed couples from having sex.
"Of all the things that are challenging us in Virginia, I would says that this would have a low priority. I believe I would not have the state police peeping into people's bedrooms."
Baliles' office took the opposite view in arguments in the federal court and has announced it was appealing the ruling. "I have done my duty and that's all I can say," Baliles said.