The Virginia Democratic Party passed a deadline and entered untested political ground last week.
The deadline was Friday. It came and went quietly. No candidate filed for statewide office to oppose state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), who is running for lieutenant governor, or Del. Mary Sue Terry (D-Patrick), who wants to be the party nominee for attorney general.
What's untested is the broad acceptance of the candidates themselves.
Both Wilder, who is black, and Terry, who is a woman, are pioneers in the tradition-bound arena of Virginia politics long dominated by white men.
Should they go on to get their party's nominations in June and win in the November general election, Wilder would be the first black statewide officeholder, Terry, the first woman attorney general.
Both campaigns, with varying degrees of success so far, have struggled to overcome entrenched attitudes of politicians and gov- ernment and news media representatives who say their campaigns are too novel for Virginia's conservative-to-moderate voters.
How they have reached this phase of their campaigns unopposed -- with formidable Republican opposition facing them in the fall -- reveals a contrast of styles, perseverance and acceptance granted or denied candidates seeking two of the highest offices in state government.
Terry, at 37, is a legislator with seven years' experience who is best known statewide for her recent work on strengthening drunken driving laws in the state.
Her candidacy has been embraced by a significant group of supporters, including most factions of the Democratic Party, key party fundraisers and business people.
She has raised more than $300,000, about $50,000 of it from a $1,000-per-person luncheon this week with society and civic-oriented women who rarely get involved in politics.
Terry is mindful of two other women candidates who proved very unpopular in Virginia last year, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and Edythe C. Harrison of Norfolk, the state party's nominee for the U.S. Senate.
Political opinion in the state is divided over whether there will be lingering negative effects from Ferraro and Harrison that may hurt Terry, or whether Terry, who is considered a better candidate, will be enhanced by the comparison.
Terry has artfully sought to become not a "woman candidate" but a "woman who is a candidate." She has hired Washington media consultant Robert Squier, who handled Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb's winning 1981 campaign.
Terry, so far, has eschewed the hard-charging, high-profile role that Ferraro and Harrison relished.
"She's completely different," said Allan McClain, president of the Southwestern Virginia Gas Co., who attended a pre-kickoff fundraiser for Terry earlier this month.
"She's considered more able. She's done a tremendous job of going around and building her support," said McClain, who described himself as a conservative independent.
And unlike Harrison, who was never a favorite of the state party establishment, which turned a cold shoulder to her campaign, Terry had the good fortune of being from the same rural area as House Speaker A.L. Philpott, who has made sure that she has played an insider's role in the statehouse, a role that brought her to the attention of other statewide leaders.
The insider's role is about her only similarity with Wilder, a 15-year veteran of the 40-member state Senate. A recent poll ranked him fifth in influence in the chamber.
Despite that role, Wilder has had to struggle hard to overcome negative perceptions of his ability to win.
So far, he has won the support of the state AFL-CIO and 10 state senators who just sent out a fund-raising letter for him. He recently picked up significant support from conservative party leaders who are backing the campaign of state Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, who is running for governor.
In January, the end of the last campaign reporting period, he had raised more than $50,000, and now he says he has more than $100,000.
Despite his successes, Wilder is not accepted as well as Terry as a party candidate.
Some Democrats are still hoping that a draft movement will nominate someone other than Wilder at the party's convention June 7 in Richmond.
While many see Terry's nomination as almost assured, Paul Goldman, a Wilder strategist, said the Wilder campaign has not benefited from party leaders "clearing the way" as Robb and Philpott have done for Terry and said Wilder can take nothing for granted until the convention.
"It's the political equivalent of David and Goliath" with Wilder fighting for party support, said Goldman. For Terry, "Goliath has embraced her."