Virginia gubernatorial rivals Wyatt B. Durrette and Gerald L. Baliles accused each other of being big spenders in a no-holds-barred debate televised here tonight.
Democrat Baliles said new programs proposed by Republican Durrette would cost an additional $2 billion in the next four years. Durrette upped the ante, saying Baliles' programs would cost $3 billion. Each candidate insisted, however, that he had no plans to propose a tax increase if elected governor on Nov. 5
In part of tonight's debate, the rivals questioned each other directly for the first time, and it was in that part that the harshest accusations were made.
Durrette insisted that Baliles is "too liberal" for Virginians, and demanded to know why Baliles thought Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale would have been a better president than Ronald Reagan. Baliles did not answer directly, choosing instead to align himself with the state's popular incumbent Democratic governor, Charles S. Robb.
Baliles picked up on continuing reports of dissension within the Durrette campaign, asking his opponent how he thought he could provide leadership over a state whose biennial budget is approaching $16 billion "when you can't control dissension and leaks in your own campaign."
Durrette answered that "you can always have people around you who will tell you what you want to hear. I want strong, independent-minded people in my administration who will disagree with me . . . but I make the decisions."
Durrette then returned to the issue of Baliles' association with national Democratic leaders and said that Baliles had chosen as his running mate state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, "probably the most liberal member of the state Senate."
Baliles responded that "there is a difference between Virginia Democrats and others around the country. In Virginia we win election."
Both men used visual gimmicks during the debate. Durrette pulled out a whistle and offered it as a reminder that when Baliles was competing for his party's nomination for governor with Lt. Gov. Richard Davis Baliles told Davis he was "whistling in the dark" if he thought his programs would be enacted without a tax increase.
Baliles whipped out a copy of a bill he said Durrette had introduced when he was in the legislature and said it would have "taxed the profits on every real estate transaction in the state."
Baliles said afterward, "I love debates," and Durrette said he thought this debate was "the liveliest."
Both men accused each other of misrepresenting their positions, with Baliles saying that Durrette's attacks on him "won't play in Pulaski," with Durrette shooting back "that it will play in Virginia, Jerry."
"I've been fair and accurate, Jerry, but you can't say the same," Durrette said in closing. "All too often negativism has been your trademark . . . . You told people things you knew were untrue . . . . You attempted to hoodwink the people.
Baliles complained that Durrette continually "turned the question around. That's what scares me about his campaign."