It was a day that showed two clear examples of racial politics in Virginia.
In the Southside, heartland of a segregationist past, crusty conservative House Speaker A.L. Philpott sat down to breakfast Thursday with state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and the first black nominee of a major party for statewide office.
Warm words were exchanged. Unity and mutual respect were the menu items of choice.
A few hours later, and miles away in Richmond, the Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor pounced on an obscure, week-old remark by Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb to ignite a finger-pointing scrap over which party is guilty of appealing to racial prejudices.
While the Wilder-Philpott scene was an unquestioned plus for Democrats, the political thunderstorm set off by the GOP could reverberate throughout the fall, with each side uncertain how it will affect the Nov. 5 elections.
"You're really walking on eggs with this ," said one concerned state Republican strategist who was still trying to assess the situation and asked not to be identified.
The reluctance of some key players to speak on the record on race issues is another sign of how sensitive those issues are in a southern state still struggling to shake off attitudes formed in the post-Civil War era. Black politicians have made substantial gains only in local elections; the voting strength of blacks statewide is less than 13 percent.
GOP gubernatorial nominee Wyatt B. Durrette and his running mate, state Sen. John Chichester of Fredericksburg, touched off the debate by charging that Robb uses a double standard of denouncing appeals to race while saying Wilder has a "special constituency" because he is black.
Robb's remark at an Aug. 8 news conference drew scant media attention, and Durrette did not mention it last Wednesday during a two-hour interview with The Washington Post.
Democrats, including the gubernatorial campaign staff of Democratic nominee Gerald L. Baliles, charged that Republicans are up to an old game of trying to raise the flag of racial fears to draw white votes because blacks vote, in large proportions, for Democrats.
"Wyatt, I think you owe Governor Robb an apology," Baliles told Durrette yesterday during a debate sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. "When you attacked the governor two days ago and accused him of playing racial politics, you not only were guilty of that yourself, you attacked the governor, who has made history in the progress of equal opportunity in efforts to unify this state."
Durrette declined to apologize. "There's nothing to appologize for," he said. "We just don't think they Democrats should deal in double standards. The implication is very clear."
The flap could draw more attention to the Chichester-Wilder campaign, which has surprised some political leaders.
Sources in the Durrette and Baliles camps said private campaign polls put Wilder about even with Chichester, with a large undecided vote -- a stronger showing than in published polls, in which Chichester is ahead by about 10 points with a large undecided pool.
Still, some political leaders in both parties were questioning at week's end the timing and substance of the Durrette-Chichester move, including the decision to step up attacks on Robb, who under Virginia law cannot succeed himself.
"Who's listening in the middle of August?" asked the GOP strategist. He said the Republicans would be hurt if either Durrette or Chichester is seen as indulging in race baiting or straining to attack Robb, who both parties agree is exceptionally popular.
"I don't understand why they are attacking Robb," a Democratic strategist agreed. "The bottom line in a campaign is, you run a military strategy. You run at weak points. You run around the Maginot Line, not through it."
Key advisers to Durrette, according to some Republicans, contend that Durrette has not shown enough toughness and believe that, as the GOP strategist said, "going after Robb will show he's got the moxie to be governor."
The Democrats were complaining at week's end that Republicans effectively raise the race issue even when the GOP candidates are busy saying race issues should not be a factor in campaigns -- just as Durrette and Chichester did Thursday.
"What they are trying to do is raise the racial issue as best they can without getting blamed for it," said the Democratic strategist.
Many politicians say that blatant race baiting is no longer politically effective here -- in fact, they say, it is counterproductive -- but they say that subtle racial appeals and code words are still factors in state campaigns.
In the 1981 governor's campaign, Republican J. Marshall Coleman was thought to be hurt by remarks of former governor Mills B. Godwin that were seen as racially insensitive in the closing days of Coleman's losing campaign against Robb.
"All we get every day is questions of race, race, race," complained Dennis Peterson, Chichester's campaign manager. "Our statement makes a deliberate point that race has no basis . . . .Wilder's voting record is contrary to the mainstream philosophy of this state. That is not a racial question. It is a philosophical question on the role of government."
"We've got a problem," said Ed DeBolt, chief consultant to Durrette. "If we even use the word 'liberal' we're accused of being racist. It wasn't fair for the Democrats to bait us with the race issue while they make exceptions in their own campaigns. There ought to be one standard."
DeBolt's "liberal" remark referred to a complaint by Wilder this year that Durrette's use of it could be interpreted as a code word for racial appeals, an interpretation that Durrette strongly disputed.