It's 7 a.m. at the Ballston Metro station in Arlington and many of the commuters are surly. But Wyatt B. Durrette, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, is undaunted.
He's still smiling, even when the stern-faced woman races past him, brushing aside his extended hand. Even when the man shouts that he has no chance to win. Even when another man asks: "When's the election?"
Durrette, a former Fairfax County legislator, shrugs off the grumpiness of some early-morning commuters much as he has shrugged off the polls that show him far behind his Democratic opponent, Gerald L. Baliles, in Tuesday's elections.
"You can reach more people at a Metro stop than you can anywhere else except on radio or television," Durrette said after he and W.R. (Buster) O'Brien, the GOP nominee for state attorney general, spent an hour trying to divert the attention of a steady stream of commuters in the morning chill.
The GOP nominee has bounded into the final stretch of the campaign, his third race for state office, injecting new fire into his speeches and harsher barbs into his attacks on Baliles.
And although he says he can't document it, Durrette says he believes the momentum is turning in his favor. "It's what you would call a sixth sense -- I just feel it, it's there," he said yesterday.
Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb, on the second day of a campaign tour with Baliles, flatly predicted at a Washington news conference yesterday that Baliles would carry Northern Virginia.
When a reporter noted that Durrette has predicted he would carry the area, Baliles replied that Durrette "will be the most surprised individual" in the state on election night.
"I personally expect Jerry Baliles to carry Northern Virginia," Robb said at a news conference in front of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on 15th Street NW.
Baliles and Robb used the federal building, where the nation's money is printed, as a backdrop to stress Baliles' commitment to fiscally conservative policies.
"I hope the people on this side of the Potomac are listening," said Baliles, appearing increasingly confident after learning of a newspaper poll to be published today that shows him ahead of Durrette by 13 percentage points.
Ed DeBolt, a Durrette campaign consultant, said, however, that a two-day poll this week of 750 registered voters showed the GOP nominee had narrowed the race into a dead heat by waking up apathetic Republicans. The survey showed Baliles ahead 44.7 percent to 40.8 percent among those considered likely to vote, he said. Because the GOP poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, the race could be considered a draw, he said.
Baliles and Robb went on a brief tour of Northern Virginia and later the two Democrats campaigned in Charlottesville and Roanoke, winding up with a rally in Richmond.
Durrette, like Baliles, is trying to cram dozens of speeches, rallies and appearances crisscrossing the state into the final days of the campaign. During a stop at James Madison University in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley on Tuesday's five-city swing, he seemed more like an aging cheerleader than a Republican candidate for governor. Pulling a university sweatshirt over his dress clothes, he jabbed the air with his fists and led a Republican pep rally of about 100 yelling, sign-waving students.
Afterward, he spent much of the drive to the next stop picking white fuzz off his dark pin-striped suit.
At a joint appearance with former president Ford in Winchester, Durrette brought a room of 500 diners to their feet with his characterization of Baliles as a "big-government, big-spending" candidate.
Standing in front of the gray limestone courthouse in the valley town of Woodstock, Durrette told the small crowd gathered on the lawn underneath a flame-gold maple tree that he is in a battle to win the votes of the 20 percent of the electorate he said was still undecided.
Durrette, who cushions his day with short naps as he flies between airports, has entered the last days of the campaign a more aggressive candidate than the Richmond lawyer who delivered the stilted, frequently dry speeches of the early days of the campaign.
His staff members joke that they hired a drama coach for him. His Richmond law partner and close friend, Donald Lemons, said Durrette has just gotten angrier over what he perceives as his opponent's deliberate distortions of his record.
At an early-morning breakfast appearance yesterday at the Key Bridge Marriott, Durrette lashed out at Baliles for "pitting one part of the state against another part of the state."
He attacked his opponent for a billboard that has been erected at a busy intersection in Richmond. It quotes a statement Durrette made in a newspaper interview in which he said: "You don't know what a traffic jam is unless you've been in Northern Virginia."
Despite Durrette's renewed burst of campaign energy, he and his Democratic rival are battling the apathy of many prospective voters who have shown little interest in the campaign.
"There's not much excitement on campus," James Madison graduate student Tom Bridges of Virginia Beach said as he listened to Durrette address the campus audience. "There's no real distinction between the two candidates in the eyes of a lot of students."
In an effort to dispute the perception, Durrette has bolstered his campaign stops with appearances by GOP colleagues from the Virginia General Assembly and from Congress.