Virginia Republican candidate for governor Wyatt B. Durrette and his allies sought today to drill home their charges of Democratic big spending and higher taxes, saying that credit for the state's economic boom belongs to the GOP.
Former governor Mills E. Godwin, appearing at Durrette's side, told a breakfast crowd of about 300 in Petersburg that Virginia's expanding economy is not a tribute to the administration of Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb.
"I would suggest there is another man who had a great deal to do with that and his name is Ronald Reagan," Godwin told a gathering of Virginians for Durrette who, like Godwin, are former Democrats.
Both Durrette and his Democratic opponent, Gerald L. Baliles, have repeatedly denied that they would seek any general tax increase. Robb himself has sought to blunt the GOP charge this week as he has campaigned with the Democratic ticket. "If Jerry Baliles says he isn't going to raise taxes, you can bank on it," Robb has said.
Today the Baliles campaign started with a slip-up in Lynchburg, where Baliles was introduced mistakenly as Durrette by Bo Sorenson, the senior class president at E. Carter Glass High School.
After Sorenson nervously referred twice to Baliles by his rival's name, Baliles stood and jokingly said: "Hi, my name's Bo Sorenson and I'm running for class president."
Baliles wound up his day in the Hampton Roads area, where he arrived at a Portsmouth rally more than an hour late because of rain but got an undampened introduction from Lt. Gov. Richard Davis.
Davis, who lost the Democratic nomination to Baliles earlier this year, told a gathering that had dwindled to two dozen by the time the candidate arrived that the city, which has a history of supporting Democrats better than any other in the state, "will do it again" Tuesday.
An echo of the sometimes divisive Baliles-Davis nomination battle was being played on Tidewater radio stations. A Durrette commercial reminds listeners that Davis said during the contest with Baliles that "there are two sides to every issue and Jerry Baliles has been on both sides on most of them."
Reminded of the statement, Davis said, "I may have said that during my campaign, but Jerry is a great deal more consistent that Wyatt has been."
Davis said he had asked the Durrette campaign to withdraw the statement because it was being used out of context, and said he reminded them that Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) had said "almost the same thing about Wyatt" when those two men were seeking the Republican nomination.
Durrette, in Washington to tape two television interview shows to be aired this weekend, said he had "incredible amount of black" support for a Republican gubernatorial candidate and predicted that he would make strong inroads in that traditionally Democratic voting bloc despite the presence of L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond as Baliles' running mate. Wilder, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor is the first black to be nominated by a major party for state office in Virginia.
The Republican also denied that Godwin's past as a segregationist has hurt him among black voters.
"Yes, he is obviously a former segregationist," Durrette told interviewers at WTTG-TV (Channel 5). "But that was 30 years ago, 25 years ago anyway. And I think most people -- black voters, white voters -- have put that behind them."
Charges over taxes and spending have produced some of the sharpest exchanges of the campaign between Durrette and Baliles.
For several weeks, Durrette has claimed that Baliles' campaign proposals would cost the state as much as $2.7 billion, a figure Baliles has said is wildly exaggerated.
The Durrette campaign, for example, contends that a Baliles proposal to bring Virginia teacher pay up to the national average would cost about $487 million in the state's next biennium, with an additional $400 million for a plan to institute "comparable worth" pay scales in government, $62 million for higher Aid to Dependent Children assistance programs and $68 million for guidance counselors.
Baliles has countered that Durrette has inflated the costs of those programs and misstated the programs that he does support. Baliles suggested Durrette's proposals would cost as much as $2 billion, including about $150 million to $200 million during the next two years for a merit pay plan for teachers that Durrette supports.