Virginia Democrat Gerald L. Baliles, in his strongest criticism of his opponent, charged yesterday that Republican Wyatt B. Durrette is not qualified to be governor and is one of the weakest candidates the GOP has ever nominated in the state.
Baliles, in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, derided Durrette's six-year record as a legislator from Fairfax County, questioned his consistency on some issues and pointedly noted that Durrette had not won an election in 10 years.
"As long as Virginia has been a two-party state, both parties have basically offered candidates who've been tested, who've shown some leadership, who were qualified for the office," Baliles said. "And I think this is the first time the Republican Party has abandoned or forgone the opportunity to offer someone who had the experience and qualifications to lead the commonwealth . . . . "
Baliles' broadside, delivered in his trademark, low-key style, comes as both the Democratic and Republican candidates are moving into the final four weeks of the general election campaign with increasingly personal attacks on each other. Earlier this week Durrette called Baliles a "mischievous child" and said the Democrat "should have been taken to the woodshed long ago."
Don Harrison, Durrette's press secretary, dismissed Baliles' charges yesterday and noted that Durrette served the same amount of time -- six years -- in the legislature as Baliles and had had a more varied business career.
Baliles, a former state attorney general, "has been nothing more than a government lawyer," Harrison said. Baliles also served as an assistant attorney general. "What is that? . . . He's an administrator. A pencil pusher," said Harrison.
Baliles, 45, and a former legislator from the Richmond suburbs, defeated Durrette for attorney general in 1981 and resigned this summer to run full-time for governor. A Washington Post poll this week showed Baliles with a commanding 19 point lead over the Republican in a race that has yet to excite many voters.
"Wyatt is a very personable individual," Baliles said yesterday when asked about key differences with Durrette, "but when it really comes to . . . experience, I've had 18 years of positive experience . . . . I don't even think there's any comparison. And I think that perception is coming through in the campaign."
At one point, Baliles picked up his debate strategy of referring to "the new Wyatt" and "the old Wyatt," and then added a third: "the classic Wyatt," references to what the Democrat said were Durrette's frequently changing positions.
"If you take a look at my opponent's legislative record versus his positions today you would not recognize the fact you were talking about the same individual," Baliles said.
Durrette, who acknowledges changing some positions as long as a decade ago, charged this week that Baliles' tactics have been "characterized by repeated and often gross distortions of my record as well as his own."
The Republican specifically has complained that Baliles, first in a joint appearance and then a television debate last week, distorted his legislative record by saying he had sponsored seven tax measures while Durrette was in the General Assembly from 1972 to 1977.
Baliles stood by his remarks, but a campaign aide said he may have erred on one of the bills. Chris Bridge, Baliles' press secretary, said legislative records apparently do not support the charge that Durrette voted in 1974 for a bill to increase taxes on flue-cured tobacco. She said the information came from campaign literature Baliles used in his 1981 race that went unchallenged then.
Baliles, in turn, has charged Durrette has misrepresented his own positions on several issues. Baliles said today that his criticism of Durrette's tax bills was designed to counter Durrette's claim that the Democrat's campaign promises would cost the state about $2 billion, a figure that Baliles said is wildly inflated.
Separately, former Republican governor Mills E. Godwin Jr. accused the Democrats yesterday of trying to "hoodwink" voters on the record of state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Godwin and Durrette also signaled that the GOP planned to step up attacks on Wilder in the closing weeks of the campaign. "The Democratic campaign clearly tries . . . to keep the spotlight of the campaign diverted from the candidate for lieutenant governor and his vulnerable record, which they seem to view as untouchable," Godwin told a Durrette luncheon in Richmond.
"They're still under the illusion that they can hang Doug Wilder around Jerry Baliles," replied Lawrence Framme of Richmond, head of the Democrats' joint campaign committee