Virginia Republican candidate for governor Wyatt B. Durrette yesterday accused Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb of injecting race into this year's statewide campaigns, a charge that brought a swift and blunt denial from Robb.
Durrette said Robb was practicing a "double standard" by calling on candidates to avoid appeals to racial prejudice while at the same time identifying blacks as a special support group for State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Durrette said Robb's use of the words "special constituency" during a press conference last week was a reference to blacks who may support Wilder, who is black.
Many politicians have expressed concern that because Wilder is the first black to run for statewide office as the nominee of a major party, the question of race could be divisive and overshadow other issues in this fall's election.
"The governor did not identify the issues or the special constituency to which he was referring, but the implication was clear . . . If, as it seems clear, the special constituency to which Gov. Robb refers is one defined by racial characteristics, then his stance is contradictory and unfair."
A tape recording of a press conference last week shows that Robb said the voting records of Wilder and Durrette, a former Fairfax legislator, were nearly identical on major issues "with the exception of a couple of issues with which he Wilder has been identified in part because of his special constituency he represented as a senator."
George M. Stoddart, Robb's press secretary, said Robb "was incredulous" over Durrette's charge. Stoddart said all 40 members of the state Senate have separate districts that are "special constituencies or else we would have one statewide race for all 40 seats."
Stoddart said "it is puzzling" that the charge has come almost a week after Robb's press conference, during which Robb said he did not believe the Republicans would use race in the campaign.
"It's unfortunate that the new Wyatt Durrette is resorting to the old tricks the Republicans tried four years ago . . . ," Stoddart said.
Robb at first was responding to questions about whether the GOP would use racial issues in the campaign against Wilder.
Robb went on to say that Wilder "is clearly in the mainstream" of Virginia politics and sharply disputed Durrette's characterization of Wilder as one of the most liberal candidates ever to seek statewide office.
Darrel Martin, campaign manager for Gerald L. Baliles, the Democratic nominee for governor, derided Durrette's accusation as a "somewhat shrill claim" that was inaccurate and dismissed it as "Dur-rhetoric" that fails to mention that Robb was talking about Wilder's role as a state senator.
"Every legislative district has its own constituency. To a responsive leader they are all special," Martin said.
Martin said Durrette has repeatedly attacked Robb instead of Baliles. "If Mr. Durrette chooses to run against the present governor, that is certainly his prerogative."
Durrette's two-page statement also was signed by State Sen. John H. Chichester of Fredericksburg, the GOP nominee opposing Wilder.
The statement reaffirmed the Republicans' "deep conviction" that racial issues should not play any role in the Nov. 5 general election.
Robert "Bobby" Watson, executive director of the state Democratic Party, however, denounced the Durrette statement, as a "back door" ploy to use racial appeals simply by bringing the issue up.
"I have said all along the Republicans would make an out-front effort that they are recruiting black support," Watson said. "All of that is a smokescreen because they know that racism will have to be used [for them] to win the campaign."