There was state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, standing under a faded Confederate flag at a local gasoline station-vegetable stand, plugging his candidacy as the Virginia Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

"We don't pass up a soul," said Wilder, sliding back into a pickup truck after complimenting the vendor on his red tomatoes and pumping the hands of the man's few customers.

For Wilder, it was one of hundreds of campaign stops on what he calls an old-fashioned, 60-day swing across 3,408 miles of backroads and highways in Virginia -- an effort he hopes will make him the first black to win a statewide office.

Wilder's Republican opponent, state Sen. John H. Chichester of Fredericksburg, also is out on the stump, getting a jump on the traditional Labor Day start of campaigning in the state.

Chichester, who has been regarded as the front-runner in the race, starts many of his campaign mornings in the cockpit of his white Piper Comanche on an airfield near Fredericksburg. From there, Chichester flies himself to many of his political appointments.

"It cuts two-thirds off the driving time," said Chichester, 48, a pilot for 25 years. "It gives me an extra certain length of time in the area where I'm going."

Neither candidate has made a point of attacking the other and, although their early campaign tactics are different, both men have encountered sharp criticism within their own parties.

"You feel like saying: 'John, put your finger in a socket and get some more juice,' " said one senior Virginia Republican.

Others, too, contend that Chichester has been lethargic and complacent.

Some Democrats privately worry that Wilder's cross-state handshaking tour comes at a time when he should be raising money for the television advertising he will need in the fall.

Both candidates said that they have heard the criticism and both reject it.

"I can't do any more than I'm doing," countered Chichester, an insurance salesman. "I've been fund raising since June 1."

"Money is not so important as to lose sight of people," said Wilder, a 54-year-old lawyer. "I don't regret it one bit."

Officials in both parties said their polls show that Wilder and Chichester are in a dead heat, with many voters undecided.

Polls by media organizations have given Chichester, who is making his first statewide race, a significant edge.

As of mid-August, the candidates were relatively even in their fund raising: Chichester had reported raising $306,240 and Wilder $301,410.

There were massive disparities in spending. Chichester has spent almost 80 percent of what he raised and has a debt of $96,100; Wilder showed no debts and has spent less than half of what he raised.

While Wilder's campaign nicknamed his cross-state trek "Dollars for Doug," the candidate concedes he expects to do little more than break even financially on the tour.

Wilder, who arrives in Northern Virginia today to begin the fourth week of his tour, tries to shrug off the concerns about finances.

"I wanted to see the people Norman Rockwell used to paint," he said. "You can't do that as a celluloid candidate coming across on the tube."

Republicans say that what Wilder may be missing in dollars, he is making up for in headlines in the state's weekly newspapers as he motors through Virginia.

"Doug is probably doing the best that he can do to get attention," said Ed DeBolt, campaign strategist for GOP gubernatorial candidate Wyatt B. Durrette.

"He's gotten an extraordinary amount of ink for as little effort as his campaign has put forth because of a unique gimmick," DeBolt said.

Reporters throughout the state have flocked to cover Wilder's swing, watching him leap into a pickup truck in Norton for a look at the traffic problems and chronicling his meetings with longtime political adversaries.

The publicity has prompted Chichester to grumble about being unable to entice reporters to join him on the campaign trail. Last week, his campaign manager described some of Wilder's coverage as "trash stories."

Not all of the Wilder attention has been positive.

With a loose campaign schedule that usually leaves him at the mercy of local Democratic Party officials, he has had his share of snafus, especially in the early days of the trip.

He has been chased from stores that bar campaigning and has been stood up by supporters.

When he arrived at the offices of the weekly newspaper in Southwest Virginia's Big Stone Gap, the editor wasn't there for a scheduled interview.

At the local radio station, he found only one part-time engineer. Everyone else had taken half a day off.

And then there was the little mountain community of Elk Creek, planned as a milestone: the 50th stop of the tour.

"We blew right through it," said Larry Wilder, a University of Virginia law student who served as his father's chauffeur the first two weeks of the tour. "Then, about a mile out of town, a man drove up behind us and flagged us down. He said about 10 or 12 people were waiting for us at a service station."

Chichester's schedule has not been flawless.

Last week, the remnants of Hurricane Danny grounded him, forcing him to miss a courthouse tour and a television interview in Newport News.