A television commercial portraying Virginia Democratic candidate for governor Gerald L. Baliles as a lying Pinocchio has been blocked by his opponent, Republican Wyatt B. Durrette, because of a bitter dispute within Durrette's campaign over the ad and how it was produced.
The 30-second ad was made over the objections of Durrette's top media adviser and campaign strategist, Edward DeBolt of Arlington, according to Durrette's campaign staff members.
Another key Durrette adviser, Judy Peachee, went without DeBolt's approval to an outside firm to prepare the ad, which shows Baliles with a glowing red nose that grows longer as an announcer ticks off alleged distortions of Durrette's campaign.
Peachee, a longtime GOP insider and consultant to Durrette's campaign who also works full time for Republican Sen. Paul S. Trible, contracted for both the Pinocchio ad and another one attacking State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
The dispute over the ads is the latest indication of serious internal strife that has hampered Durrette's campaign since his nomination last June.
The battle over the commercials also comes at a crucial time when Durrette and Baliles are entering the final weeks before the Nov. 5 election, when most media decisions should already have been made.
"I'm not going to talk about this stuff. Nobody cares . . . ," Peachee said. DeBolt also declined to comment.
The second ad depicts Wilder as a "torpedo boat" busily sinking Democrats from the Tidewater area who have differed with him. It is aimed specifically at disgruntled Democrats in that region.
Neither ad has been broadcast. Durrette acknowledged today "obvious differences of opinion" about the ads. "I frankly doubt very much we'll use it," Durrette said of the Pinocchio ad. He said the torpedo boat ad "was funny" and may be used.
The Baliles campaign has been running 10-second television ads that poke fun at Durrette by comparing his stand on issues to a looping roller coaster. And Baliles has referred to Durrette on at least one occasion as being in danger of becoming the "Pinocchio of politics." Baliles campaign officials said they have material to run negative ads in addition to the roller coaster ad, but do not have any specific ads prepared.
Durrette has previously acknowledged differences of opinion in his campaign, but has insisted his effort "is on track." Many state Republicans and some national GOP leaders have privately expressed concern over his campaign's seeming lack of direction and confused message, including some statements that were seen as racially insensitive.
The Durrette camp has been split between factions that support the hard-line, conservative approaches of former governor Mills E. Godwin, another key Durrette supporter, and DeBolt, who has insisted on a positive campaign similar to that run by Republican Sen. John W. Warner last year.
"There's no problem in the campaign," Peachee said when asked about the dispute with DeBolt.
"Ed and I have worked together. We have varying points of view. We talk it through . . . . Campaign strategy doesn't belong in the newspaper," Peachee said.
Both negative ads were produced by Ian Weinschel, president of Riverbank, a Maryland-based firm that has specialized in Republican media projects and worked for Trible. Weinschel could not be reached for comment on the cost of the ads.
Until now, DeBolt has contracted for all of Durrette's advertising, with the Republican National Committee paying for much of it.
According to GOP sources, DeBolt objected to the new ads because they were too negative. Acccording to several Republicans, DeBolt said that the Pinocchio ad itself "stretched the truth," which is that Baliles has badly distorted some of Durrette's positions but not "lied" about them.
The torpedo ad depicts Wilder as a boat sinking state Del. Owen Pickett, a conservative Virginia Beach Democratic legislator who abandoned a 1982 bid for the U.S. Senate after Wilder threatened to run as an independent. The Wilder torpedo also "sinks" Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis of Portsmouth, who lost the gubernatorial nomination to Baliles after Wilder's forces sided with Baliles.
Davis' defeat left no one from the Tidewater area on the Democratic ticket. The torpedo ad shows Republican Del. W.R. (Buster) O'Brien, who is from Virginia Beach, and says, "If you want someone to represent Tidewater . . . " support the GOP.
Both Durrette and Baliles have begun running a series of new, positive ads for their campaigns, with Durrette banking heavily on scenes from President Reagan's visit to Arlington Oct. 9 and Baliles promoting his close ties with Gov. Charles S. Robb, considered one of the most popular Virginia governors.
In the Republican spot, Reagan gives a strong endorsement of Durrette as a candidate who knows "the value of values."
"It makes a very positive association when you have the President of the United States saying Wyatt is qualified," said campaign spokesman Don Harrison.
The Democrats are countering with an advertisement featuring Robb linking Baliles with the accomplishments of his administration over the last four years.
A recent Washington Post poll showed Robb had a slightly higher favorable rating than Reagan among registered voters in Virginia. Robb had a favorable rating of 73 percent, while Reagan had 68 percent.