Republican Wyatt B. Durrette flew across Virginia today, accusing Gerald L. Baliles, his Democratic opponent for governor, of distorting his record and of unfairly charging that he is not qualified to be governor.
"I think it's a more personal attack than anything we've seen so far," Durrette said at Danville Municipal Airport during a six-city campaign swing with members of the state's GOP congressional delegation.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), at a 7:30 a.m. breakfast in Arlington, praised Durrette as a "decent person" and called Baliles' remarks "very vicious . . . . I don't think it's the way we do things in Virginia . We want a decent person."
The Northern Virginia congressman urged the group of 70 supporters to "be upbeat and positive" in the face of polls showing Durrette trailing far behind Baliles, and he suggested that the Democrat's criticisms "could end up being his downfall."
Baliles, in an interview Thursday with Washington Post editors and reporters, charged that Durrette lacked the qualifications to be governor and was one of the weakest candidates the state GOP has offered for the office.
" . . . Both parties have basically offered candidates who've been tested, who've shown some leadership, who were qualified for the office," Baliles said in the interview. "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 . . . . "
It was the first time in an increasingly bitter campaign that either candidate had flatly said that the other was not qualified.
"I wouldn't say that about him," Durrette told a crowd at Roanoke Muncipal Airport.
"Why not?" shouted Donald W. Huffman, state GOP party chairman, to laughs and applause from the partisan crowd.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), flying in one of five private planes in the Durrette shuttle between Danville and Roanoke, said Durrette "has refrained from personal attacks, and that's the wiser course."
Sen. Paul S. Trible (R-Va.), Virginia's junior senator, joined in the criticism. "I was offended by Mr. Baliles' personal attacks," he said. "It's one thing to tell people about yourself . . . but it's something else to attack the character and personal virtue of anyone. I think the voters respond very negatively to that kind of campaigning."
The Republican leaders' comments reflect the growing perception that the race is likely to become nastier as the Nov. 5 election approaches.
Durrette and Baliles have stepped up their criticism of each other, and the Republican National Committee has run a negative newspaper advertisement in some cities against state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, suggesting that he was soft on spouse abuse.
Much in Durrette's speeches today sought to discredit Baliles and to dismiss a Washington Post poll this week that showed Baliles ahead by 19 percentage points in a race that has drawn little voter interest. The Republican charged that Baliles continued to misstate his record on tax issues.
"We don't need a big-spending, high-taxing philosophy in Virginia," Durrette said of Baliles' campaign promises. "We need to get our message out."
At Newport News' Patrick Henry International Airport, Durrette told reporters that the Post poll underrated Republicans who traditionally respond late in campaigns. He dismissed reports of internal strife in his campaign, saying, "We've never been off track."
In Arlington, Durrette told the breakfast crowd that he favors retaining the HOV-3 designation for I-66 during rush hours rather than reverting to the four-occupant plan that previously restricted rush-hour traffic on the highway inside the Capital Beltway.
Durrette said he favored opening I-66 to all traffic on winter days with heavy ice and sleet to ease traffic snarls on other major commuter roads.
Throughout the day, Durrette stressed his longtime support for President Reagan and said they see the race as a continuation of the growth of the Republican Party in the South.
"That's a big burden, but we're up to it," Durrette told 200 cheering supporters in Danville's King of the Sea Restaurant who dined on barbecue sandwiches and potato salad. "We're up to it because it's important . . . for Virginia to be the first state in the South to elect three Republicans to state government office" this fall.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) made the campaign swing with Durrette, as did state Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County, the party's candidate for lieutenant governor, and state Del. W.R. (Buster) O'Brien of Virginia Beach, the GOP nominee for attorney general.
Later, a private plane carrying Chichester and three other persons blew out a tire while landing at National Airport.
There were no injuries as the small, twin-engine plane, which had been used by Chichester to fly around the state, came to a stop on Runway 3 during National's early evening rush hour. Trible had gotten off the plane an hour earlier in Staunton, Va.