State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, has been out in Southwest Virginia for several days now, just beginning a 60-day, 3,000-mile autombile campaign swing through Virginia.
Statewide press coverage has hit the usual highs and lows of such a venture -- warm receptions in some places and less so in others, like the grocer who barred any campaigning in his store.
But the potentially more serious downsides to Wilder's extended, low-budget trip aren't readily apparent as the candidate bumps along back roads for votes -- the effects of such a trip on fund-raising, the candidate's access to state media and his attendance at long-planned meetings of various interest groups around the state.
August is the tail end of the summer fund-raising season, the days when candidates have time before the post-Labor Day push to make the personal touch for donations, either in person or on the telephone. It's hard to do in a car, even with a mobile telephone, which Wilder doesn't have.
Wilder's fund-raising goal is $500,000. He will report his latest results next week. Previous reports show he has hit the $200,000 mark.
But some Democratic fund-raisers for other candidates, who praise the novelty of Wilder's "Dollars for Doug" trek, have privately said Wilder and his suppporters should be spending more time raising substantial sums. "Nobody can do it for him. He has to pick up the phone himself," one said.
"You can phone from anywhere," countered Paul Goldman, Wilder's chief consultant who was calling from the tiny town of Haysi (population 371) in Dickenson County. "I'm calling you," Goldman said. "We're extremely pleased with our growing support."
Wilder's schedule is keeping him away from some traditional appearances that most statewide candidates make before groups with statewide followings. A good example is this week's three-day convention of the Virginia State Sheriffs' Association meeting here at the Hyatt Hotel.
Wilder, according to the group, initially accepted an invitation two months ago to appear on Monday before the association that represents the state's 125 sheriffs, their 3,900 deputies and families. But on Saturday, Goldman called Richmond Sheriff Andrew J. Winston and said he wouldn't make it because of the auto trip.
"It was one of those regrettable things," Goldman explained this week, saying Wilder knew at the outset he would have to balance off the trip's positive results with some hurt feelings.
"We had a lot of senior citizens, coal miners and rural people to see us. Congressman [Frederick C.] Boucher had flown in special for Doug and 200 people . . . . Doug has spoken before [the sheriffs] many times. We know they are good friends of ours. It's unfortunate that you can't do everything you'd like to do."
The cancellation left some of the sheriffs muttering about the no show, including Westmoreland County's C.W. Jackson, president of the association. "That's a hell of a way to run a campaign," he said when asked about Wilder's absence. Jackson didn't say who he's supporting, but his county is in State Sen. John H. Chichester's district. Chichester is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.
"It's not like we're here for one day," another sheriff said. "We're here for three days. This is his home."
Although Wilder couldn't make it, his opponent did.
"The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in every city and county in Virginia," said Chichester, of Fredericksburg. "I don't know who can better advise" candidates on law enforcement issues. Chichester declined to comment directly on Wilder's absence.
But Chichester gladly took the stage by himself Tuesday, reminding the law enforcement officials that Chichester's father had served as chief prosecutor in Stafford County for more than 30 years and that Chichester's brother succeeded their father as county attorney and has held the post for about 15 years.
Chichester, displaying the easy manner that makes him personally popular even with his political opponents, joked with the sheriffs and called many of them by name without reading their name tags.
Sheriff T. C. Waddy Jr., whose Spotsylvania County adjoins Chichester's home county of Stafford, emerged from the Tuesday meeting without making any endorsements, but touched on the importance of being there.
"I'm sort of independent," Waddy said. "I haven't committed myself yet," he said of the lieutenant governor's race. "I felt like he [Wilder] should have showed up."