Virginia State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, unopposed for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, today assailed Republican candidate for governor Wyatt B. Durrette for remarks that Wilder described as reckless and said could be interpreted as racist.
The Richmond lawmaker said Durrette, in a television interview here this week, called Wilder "the most liberal individual -- the candidate for lieutenant governor -- ever to seek statewide office in Virginia."
"The question is: 'What did he mean?' " said Wilder, the state's senior black legislator. He said he does not believe Durrette is a racist but that "liberal" is often used in Virginia as a code word to raise racial fears.
"I don't think there is any question that some" use it that way, Wilder said in response to questions. "Some people may have gotten a message he didn't intend," Wilder said. "If I'm some obnoxious liberal, what makes me so?"
A spokesman for Durrette quickly denounced Wilder for "a blatant attempt . . . to inject race in this campaign. It's the last thing Wyatt Durrette would do."
Durrette spokesman Don Harrison said Wilder was taking the Durrette remark out of context. "I don't think anybody could exactly characterize Senator Wilder as a conservative," Harrison said, adding he did not know the basis for Durrette's remarks. "I'm sure Wyatt had good reason for saying it. I'm not concerned with it."
In the same television interview, Durrette also said state Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, the apparent Democratic nominee for governor, "will have more controversial running mates than I will," a reference to Wilder and Del. Mary Sue Terry, the lone Democratic candidate for attorney general.
Wilder challenged Durrette to meet with him on Monday to explain both the "liberal" remark and why the Democrat ticket is controversial. The legislator released a list of his positions on 49 state issues, many of which he said Durrette also supported.
"He threw a rock in the dark and it boomeranged and hit him," Wilder said during a news conference in which he mocked Durrette's conservatism. He said Durrette as a Fairfax legislator in the 1970s was known as one of the most liberal Republicans to serve in the General Assembly.
"Mr. Durrette doesn't comment much on his record in the General Assembly," Wilder chided. "Except . . . to say that he has changed or repudiated or clarified his position on many issues."
Wilder also said Durrette last year called Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb "duplicitous" and criticized 9th District Democratic Rep. Frederick Boucher for being "so soft on crime."
". . . Could you ever imagine Governor Robb using such irresponsible language?" Wilder asked.
Republican campaign strategists have said Durrette is expected to focus his campaign against the entire Democratic ticket in an effort to undercut Baliles, a more conservative Democrat than Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis, who last week conceded the party nomination to Baliles.