Gerald L. Baliles, Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, has a 9 percentage-point lead over Republican Wyatt B. Durrette, according to a poll sponsored by the Journal newspapers and WDVM-TV. A Metro story yesterday incorrectly stated the size of the lead.
The six statewide candidates in Tuesday's Virginia elections have spent about $1.5 million on television advertising in Washington in a costly, high-stakes race to reach the one-fifth of the state's voters who live in Northern Virginia.
"It's really amazing how this stuff is poured into a black hole," said Carter Eskew, a media consultant to one Democratic candidate. "The voters have got a lot of other things to worry about, as much as we're screaming at them."
Aides to Wyatt B. Durrette, the Republican candidate for governor, were eying an advertising plum yesterday: an open 30-second spot during Sunday's Redskins game against Atlanta. "We haven't decided yet," said Ed DeBolt, Durrette's media adviser. "It's a lot of money."
The GOP campaign already has bought similar time slots during the game on Richmond and Norfolk stations for a total of $6,000, DeBolt said -- less than half the going rate for the same time on Washington's WDVM-TV (Channel 9).
Nearly half the $700,000 that the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, Mary Sue Terry of rural Patrick County, has paid to her media consultant has gone to buy air time in Washington. That includes a 30-second ad that will cost $6,250 to air tomorrow night during "Dallas" and an eye-popping $13,000 for 30 seconds during the Redskins game.
In return, the consultants say, a candidate gains short-lived name recognition and not much else in Washington-oriented Northern Virginia, where few of this year's candidates are well known.
Name identification, said Eskew, is "the ante at the table -- it's expensive ante."
Several other candidates rushed yesterday to ensure that their TV message is hammered home in the campaign's final weekend.
The biggest buy was by Gerald L. Baliles, the Democratic nominee for governor, who purchased another $31,555 in air time from WDVM-TV for ads to run through election eve.
That cemented Baliles' ranking as the top TV spender here, at $436,756. His opponent, Durrette, had spent an estimated $184,049 by late yesterday.
State Del. W.R. (Buster) O'Brien of Virginia Beach, Terry's Republican rival for attorney general, bought an additional $4,850 of Channel 9's air time, raising his Washington TV total to about $45,100 (against Terry's $306,174).
And state Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, hit $46,562 after a $35,300 spurt yesterday that included a single, $18,000 package from WJLA-TV (Channel 7).
"The decision to buy TV was predicated on dollars being available," said Chichester campaign manager Dennis Peterson. He said the campaign is buying TV time "on a daily basis" depending on last-minute fund raising.
Chichester's Democratic opponent, state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, already had snatched up $232,257 in commercial time in Washington, outdistancing Chichester almost 6 to 1. He purchased an additional $8,500 yesterday at WRC-TV (Channel 4).
Overall, a survey of four Washington TV stations -- which are required by federal law to make these figures public -- showed that Virginia Democrats have outspent Republicans in the area elevision air time sweepstakes by about 4 to 1.
Only one of the city's five commercial stations, WDCA-TV (Channel 20), has sold no time for political spots.
The lavish media spending is Washington represents the latest development in a trend that began in 1977 when Charles S. Robb of McLean ran for lieutenant governor and became the first Virginia candidate to make extensive purchases of Washington TV time.
Despite the current level of spending, the Virginia candidates and their consultants say they regard the expensive Washington market as a necessary evil at best.
"Washington is an inefficient market, period," said Eskew, a Terry consultant. "It reaches 25 percent of the voters and costs as much as the rest of the state combined." Still, Eskew said, "you can't ignore it."
Eskew, who works with media consultant Robert Squier, and other political strategists complain that when they sink sizable sums into Washington, their candidates' messages also are beamed to District and Maryland residents who will not be at the Virginia polls.
Cable TV systems help offset that factor by carrying all of Washington's stations to various reaches of Virginia. WTTG-TV (Channel 5) is seen in 17 communities downstate, from Norfolk and Hampton to Roanoke and Danville.
Candidates whose coffers will support little or no television time here have adopted radio as the next best advertising weapon.
"We basically made a conscious decision in the Washington market only, almost, to put it into radio," said O'Brien's campaign manager, Jeff Gregson. "It's a question of where you get the most bang for a buck."
By contrast, O'Brien TV ads are seen frequently in four downstate markets: Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and Bristol.
Ads for Chichester are heard on nine Washington area radio stations.
Northern Virginia motorists, said Gregson, provide "a good captive audience during drive time."