After months of pleading poverty and saying they could not afford television advertising, campaign aides to Virginia state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, have eked out $200,000 for TV ads to begin next month, a Wilder aide said yesterday.
The apparent switch in tactics immediately drew fire from a senior aide to Wilder's Republican opponent, state Sen. John H. Chichester, who accused Wilder yesterday of "a lack of honesty and openness with the public."
"For the entire campaign, on numerous occasions, Senator Wilder has said 'we're very broke -- poor old us, the Republicans are going to outspend us,' " said Dennis Peterson, Chichester's campaign manager. "They've deliberately misled the public on the integrity issue.
"To say they've squeezed out $200,000 through frugal management -- give me a break."
Wilder said earlier this summer that he hoped to raise $500,000 in campaign funds, about half the amount Chichester was expected to have available, and that television ads would be beyond the Democrat's budget. The Associated Press quoted a Wilder aide, Paul Goldman, as saying yesterday, however, that fund raising was outpacing projections and that Wilder TV ads would be aired starting in mid-October.
"It will be a 'just-the-facts' message," emphasizing Wilder's achievements in the General Assembly, Goldman said yesterday. "We don't have the money to run documentary-type advertisements.
"The odds have changed. Our cost-cutting and no-frill campaign has enabled us to save our money," Goldman said.
Goldman said the ads would not appear in the high-priced Washington metropolitan television market area that includes Northern Virginia, but said the spots would air in much of the rest of the state, where ad rates are lower.
Peterson said yesterday that whether Chichester's own television advertising campaign would be seen by Northern Virginia viewers will be "a matter of the dollars. That decision just has not been made yet."
He said Republican funds earmarked for television in the race would fail to equal Wilder's new figure. "Frankly, it's not that much," he said.
Wilder has often portrayed his campaign as a relatively low-cost, bootstrap effort, with an automobile tour of hundreds of Virginia localities as its modest centerpiece -- a tactic that won him extensive press coverage.
"They called John Chichester the 'celluloid candidate,' " Peterson complained, "as if to imply something less than honorable. Now they come up with this TV ad scheme. Personally, I think it's an example of what I believe is a lack of honesty with the public."