It was supposed to be the week Virginia Republican Wyatt B. Durrette's campaign for governor finally switched into high gear.
Durrette went on the air with $100,000 worth of commericals. He was primed for his first statewide television debate on Tuesday with his Democratic opponent, Gerald L. Baliles. And his staff heavily promoted a special campaign swing Wednesday through the state with former Virginia governor Mills Godwin.
But what campaign staff members and the candidate himself had hoped would be a campaign locomotive with a full head of steam suddenly met several major obstacles along the track:
*A private Durrette poll leaked from within the campaign showed him 9 percentage points behind Baliles in a race that had been seen as even.
*A remark widely seen as racially insensitive was the most talked about aspect of the highly touted campaign tour.
*John H. Chichester, Durrette's lieutenant governor running mate, faced a controversy over a law he introduced in 1984 that had the effect of helping insurance businesses such as his own.
*Reports surfaced of internal dissension in Durrette's campaign on spending, staff and strategy.
*The Tuesday television debate largely was judged a lackluster draw.
"Lumping all those stories together," sighed state GOP Executive Director Don Edmunds at week's end, "you obviously don't have a lot of positives."
GOP activists "are a little down right now -- there's no question," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), House minority leader and a longtime supporter of Durrette.
In an interview Friday, Durrette acknowledged the spate of bad news but said it was balanced by his campaigning and by being on the road every day. "All of our comments and all of our feedbacks are good . . . . I think the week has been a good week . . . . You never have a 100 percent good week," Durrette said.
Strategists from each party saw the "press curve" breaking against Durrette and dominating the week. Baliles, with no special agenda except the debate, left the field open for coverage of Durrette's troubles at a time when both sides agreed that the public was beginning to notice the campaign.
"What this Durrette campaign desperately needs, and it's fast getting too late, is for everybody to feel involved," said William Stanhagen, the GOP national committeeman from Manassas. "People are telling me they don't feel involved."
"It concerns me that I don't see a little more activity," said Fairfax County Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins. "At the same time, I don't think this is the critical point. The critical point is in the last three or four weeks of the campaign." The election is Nov. 5, slightly more than six weeks away.
Stanhagen, who initially supported Rep. Stan Parris of Fairfax for governor, stressed that he still believed that Durrette would rally the party to his campaign before the election.
Stanhagen, Callahan and others at week's end, however, were still assessing the impact of the one event that they suggested may be especially troubling in moderate areas such as Northern Virginia.
Godwin, making his fifth speech Wednesday while traveling with Durrette, criticized Baliles' support for state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Godwin complained that Wilder, among other things, had once introduced legislation to repeal the state song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia." The song, with references to "massa" and "darky," is considered offensive to blacks; Wilder is black.
Godwin said the remark was not intended to be racial, but others, including prominent Baliles supporters, said Godwin had effectively injected race into the campaign.
The GOP is sensitive to the issue because comments that were viewed as a racial appeal by Godwin in 1981 were seen as a late blow to the unsuccessful campaign for governor that year of J. Marshall Coleman of McLean.
Coleman said this week that Godwin's latest remark will not help the party, but said he was certain that Godwin did not intend a racial slur.
The Godwin remark, as in 1981, could serve to energize some black voters, who usually make up a crucial portion of Democratic votes.
Dr. William S. Thornton, chairman of the influential Virginia Crusade for Voters -- a predominately black group -- declined to comment on Godwin's remark. Thornton, a Richmond podiatrist, said Durrette and Baliles are scheduled to address his statewide group at an endorsement meeting on Saturday.
Durrette said he was not aware of Wilder's 1970 bill until Godwin mentioned it Wednesday, but he said he did not think that Godwin's remark "has any significance." Durrette said he would not favor changing the state song, and a spokeswoman for Baliles said the candidate had no position regarding the song.
Durrette, in a two-hour interview with The Washington Post on Monday, played down his staff problems, calling them policy debates among his advisers. He said the campaign is going as planned. And he said Friday that he fully supported running mate Chichester of Fredericksburg.
"I don't think it is of any significance at all," Durrette said of the insurance bill introduced by Chichester. "Any relationship to any kind of improper conduct was simply nonexistent."
On his own poll results, which also showed about one-fourth of the voters still undecided, Durrette declined to comment specifically. But, he said, "I know it's a cliche . . . but there isn't but one poll that matters, and that's the one on Nov. 5."
The string of incidents this week came at a time when Durrette had begun to show that he was shaking off what his advisers had described as a troubled summer of mixed success.
The campaign had an embarrassing recall of 20,000 bumper stickers that had union labels; Durrette supports Virginia's right-to-work law. He fired his first campaign manager and spent weeks clarifying his position on education.
"I think to the extent we're getting into explaining the negatives, we're taking away the chance for the electorate to focus on the real issues," noted Stanhagen. "This election is winnable . . . unless we don't get together, and lose it."