When the Virginia state AFL-CIO meets in Norfolk this weekend, there won't be much suspense over whom the group will endorse for governor.
Neither Democrat Gerald L. Baliles nor Republican Wyatt B. Durrette has asked for the endorsement.
And the convention isn't likely to endorse either.
"I don't see a lot of enthusiasm out there to endorse," said Daniel G. LeBlanc, secretary-treasurer of the state group that represents about 200,000 workers. "There's differences between Durrette and Baliles , but some of it's microscopic."
It's no surprise that Durrette has kept some distance from organized labor. He spoke to the AFL-CIO screening committee last week but is not addressing the convention.
What has drawn attention has been the seeming estrangement between Baliles and labor, a coolness not unlike that between labor and Charles S. Robb four years ago. Robb, a Democrat, won the governor's office without the formal support of organized labor, and that lesson appears not to have been lost on Baliles.
Darrel Martin, Baliles' campaign manager, said that his candidate wants the support of working men and women and that "certainly there are some positive feelings toward Jerry throughout the AFL-CIO membership . . . but we don't intend to look on labor as a monolith." Baliles is following a cautious path to avoid any hint of catering to labor, one of the dreaded "special interests" to which Republicans long have claimed the state's Democrats are wedded.
Martin said Baliles has been the only candidate to release copies of his answers to questionnaires from private organizations, a policy designed to curb charges that he might be tailoring his answers to special appeals of those groups.
At first, Robb courted a labor endorsement in his 1981 race, but the AFL-CIO indicated that it was not likely to back him officially because of his lackluster stands on labor issues. Robb then maneuvered to win the support of individual unions and leaders, emerging from the AFL-CIO convention with the image of a candidate who would not buckle under to labor demands.
Largely unwelcome by Robb's Republican opponent at the time, state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman, the labor leaders had little choice but to work for Robb or sit out the election. Most ended up working for the Democratic ticket.
It's a little different for Baliles, whose campaign against Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis for the Democratic nomination for governor last fall angered the AFL-CIO's leadership.
The labor group's executive committee had endorsed Davis, who then was regarded as the front-runner.
Martin, Baliles' manager, reacted to the executive committee's action by suggesting that Davis had won the endorsement by secretly agreeing to support limited collective bargaining for public employes, a charge that Davis labeled "a damned lie."
Although the wounds of that encounter have been slow to heal, the labor leaders again may be forced to go with Baliles or sit on their hands.
While the Baliles campaign has made quiet overtures to labor leaders, Durrette inadvertently may have done the single biggest thing to ease the tension between labor and Baliles.
This year, Durrette's campaign destroyed 20,000 glossy bumper stickers because they had a union identification symbol, or "bug," on them. That prompted a flurry of stories that largely embarrassed the Durrette campaign and pointed up the sometimes hypersensitive approach of Republicans to unions.
In one surprising switch, state Del. W.R. (Buster) O'Brien, a Republican from Virginia Beach, has said he would welcome a labor endorsement in his race for state attorney general against Democratic Del. Mary Sue Terry of Patrick County.
"It's something we would accept . . . . We'd take it for face value," said Greg Burden, O'Brien's press secretary. " 'Seeking' is the wrong word . . . . " Terry, a lawyer, has not courted labor either and thus may not win its backing.
State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is expected to get the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. The executive committee backed Wilder last fall. His opponent, state Sen. John H. Chichester of Fredericksburg, did not seek the endorsement.
Robb, Baliles, Terry and Davis are scheduled to address the AFL-CIO tomorrow.
Wilder, Rep. Norman Sisisky (D-Va.), Democratic state Del. Richard Bagley of Hampton, who is already running for governor in 1989, and AFL-CIO national political director John Perkins are scheduled to speak on Saturday