Mary Sue Terry, the Democratic candidate for attorney general of Virginia, told several hundred persons who braved an early morning fog at the annual Labor Day celebration here that "when the mist burns off," several things will be "imminently clear" about the 1985 campaign.
Before day's end, what was clear -- though it may not have been what Terry had in mind -- was that none of the six candidates seeking statewide election this year appears to approach the popularity of outgoing Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb, who cannot succeed himself.
What remains to be seen is whether Robb's popularity can be transferred to this year's Democratic ticket, especially one that, for the first time, includes a woman and a black.
It may be an indication of the schizophrenic nature of the New South, or at least the New Virginia, that state Sen. Douglas Wilder's race may be less of an obstacle to his election as lieutenant governor than Terry's sex is to her campaign for attorney general.
At the end of the speechmaking at the park in "Boona-Vista" ("No one here speaks Spanish," explained one resident), Carl and Betty McGowan guessed that Democrat Gerald Baliles, the gubernatorial candidate, plus Wilder and Terry had bested the Republicans in the oratory. The Republicans -- lieutenant governor hopeful John Chichester and attorney general candidate W.R. (Buster) O'Brien -- were handicapped by the absence of the top of the ticket, gubernatorial candidate Wyatt Durrette. Durrette was represented by his daughter.
"The Ferraro factor" might spell defeat for the Democrats on Nov. 5, the McGowans said.
"I hope Terry doesn't do what happened in the presidential race," said Carl McGowan, a supervisor in a paper mill. "I'm not a chauvinist, but Buena Vista isn't ready for a woman."
"I agree," added his wife. "I'm not ready for a woman."
What about a black, they were asked. "Blacks, if they're qualified, are as equal as anyone else," Carl McGowan said.
One interview does not make a poll, but throughout the day, here and later during the barnstorming holiday, Wilder appeared to evoke a special enthusiasm among parts of the crowds, especially in the union stronghold of Covington.
Meanwhile, Baliles, who was elected attorney general four years ago in the Democratic sweep led by Robb, stressed his ties to Robb at every opportunity.
Quoting an earlier Virginian, James Madison, on Madison's predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, Baliles said, "It is good that the path which we tread was lighted by his illustrious service."
The GOP reserved its strongest rhetoric for a small breakfast with loyalists in Lexington.
Chichester, a state senator from Fredericksburg, was introduced to the 50 early risers by GOP state Chairman Donald W. Huffman as the legislator "who single-handedly defeated ERA by his brilliant manuevers in the state Senate."
Chichester denounced Wilder as "the softest man in the Virginia Senate on drunk driving . . . and capital punishment . . . who very much favors collective bargaining for public employes."
Chichester ridiculed Wilder's effort to visit every county, city and town in the state. He said that while Wilder was trying to compare his first visit to the 9th Congressional Distict in Southwest Virginia, on Aug. 1, to "the Lewis and Clark expedition, I was there on my 27th visit that same day."
Neither Chichester nor O'Brien criticized Robb head-on, though O'Brien alluded at the breakfast to the number of escapes from state prisons, saying that the state corrections system policy is "in by nine, out by five."
O'Brien said the three Republican candidates are "preaching the same sermon . . . . I'm not aware of any major issue on which we disagree. We all have the same conservative philosophy." In contrast to the Republican team effort, he said, the Democrats are "one person attempting to do it alone." Robb's popularity was evidenced throughout the day by the steady stream of requests that he and his wife Lynda pose for pictures, requests that none of the active candidates were burdened with.
And at Covington, Robb was cheered after being introduced by a local labor leader as "the greatest governor ever in the state of Virginia."
About 200 of the opening crowd were not on hand to hear that introduction, having filed out of the grandstand after cheering the national anthem as played by the Alleghany High School band. The crowd returned to its original size only after the politicians had been replaced on the grandstand by the Moonshine Express band.