The Republican National Committee ran ads in some Virginia newspapers today accusing state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, of neglecting "the needs of battered wives."
Wilder's campaign said the ads distorted his record and Democrats said it was "nasty" effort to bolster the campaign of state Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County, Wilder's GOP opponent.
Headlined "Why did Doug Wilder neglect the needs of battered wives?" the ads asked "should a beaten wife have to flee her home to protect herself -- and her children?" The ad said legislation in 1982 would have allowed an abuser to be ordered out of a house, but said " . . . Doug Wilder opposed this badly needed reform."
Wilder's staff acknowledged he voted against two bills on the subject that year, but said he did so because the measures were poorly drafted. Paul Goldman, Wilder's chief campaign consultant, said that Wilder voted for a 1984 bill that was a much stronger measure and was approved by the legislature.
Robert (Bobby) Watson, state Democratic Party executive director, called the ads "scurrilous and the lowest form of politics I have seen in Virginia. It's starting to appear that the RNC is going to try to rescue the GOP ticket."
The half-page ad, which did not mention Chichester or the Nov. 5 elections, appeared in Norfolk and ran with minor revisions ordered by newspapers in Roanoke but was rejected by Richmond's daily newspapers. The RNC did not try to place the ad in Northern Virginia.
The RNC has underwritten more than $200,000 in advertisements for Wyatt B. Durrette, the Republican candidate for governor, but until today had not run any negative ads on the Virginia election.
"We think the voters of Virginia ought to have an opportunity to view the differences of the candidates on the issues the voters feel to be important," said William Greener, RNC political director. "We are hearing a lot of waffling and attempts at political rhetoric . . . this is as airtight a case as any a campaign has ever witnessed."
Terry Wade, a spokesman for the RNC in Washington, declined to say whether the RNC would sponsor additional ads either against Wilder or for Chichester.
A recent poll showed Chichester with only a narrow lead over Wilder, while nearly 70 percent of those surveyed did not know who Chichester is. About 45 percent didn't know Wilder. Many politicians of both parties have said Chichester began as the clear favorite against Wilder, the first black nominee of a major state party.
"It's remarkable that the RNC would run an ad in a race that was supposed to be a foregone conclusion," said William Wood, editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. "Whether the ad . . . is accurate or not, it obviously indicates Wilder has exceeded everyone's expectations. This is the guy that was supposed to get the hell beat out of him . . . . "
One of the 1982 bills Wilder opposed would have broadened powers of juvenile court judges to issue injucntions against abusers and the other would have given magistrates authority to order an abuser out of a house. Both passed the Senate, but died in the House.
Goldman said the 1984 measure, which Wilder supported, gave additional power to juvenile court judges in abuse cases, including granting an abused spouse the right to occupy a house with financial aid from the abuser and to prohibit contacts by the abuser.
Dennis Petersen, Chichester's campaign manager, said the ad was prepared by the RNC based on research supplied by the Chichester campaign. "I supplied the content . . . there's no mystery," he said. "We stand by the ad."
Richmond's daily newspapers, owned by Media General Inc., said they declined to run the ads "based on advice of legal counsel." The Roanoke papers, owned by Landmark Communications Inc., required the RNC to insert language indicating what the bills would have done