Gov. Charles S. Robb had planned to take Virginia's winning Democratic team to Washington Monday to show them off before the Democratic Leadership Council, but Lt. Gov.-elect L. Douglas Wilder "had other obligations," according to Paul Goldman, who managed Wilder's campaign.
Wilder's "other obligations," which Goldman conceded amounted to "getting ready for vacation," arose at the same time that Goldman was calling reporters around the state, playing down Robb's role in Wilder's Nov. 5 victory.
Goldman said the motive for his "clarification" of the governor's role was not to take away anything from Robb, but rather to place the credit more properly where it belonged -- with folks who came out early and loud for Wilder's candidacy.
But the implication was clear that Robb was not there for the original roll call, and therefore Wilder was not going out of his way to be used by Robb or his supporters. They would like to point to the Democratic sweep in Virginia as a reason to look to Robb as a presidential or vice presidential possibility in 1988.
"I just didn't want people to put a spin on it Wilder's win , a national angle that wasn't there," Goldman said.
He said that "last spring, at some risk, a number of people stood by us." He cited Gov.-elect Gerald L. Baliles, Virginia House Speaker A.L. Philpott and two of Wilder's state Senate colleagues from Northern Virginia, Clive L. DuVal II of McLean and Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. of Fairfax. Others, including Robb, were worried then that Wilder's drive to become the first black elected to statewide office in Virginia might sink the entire Democratic ticket, Goldman suggested.
"I'm not being critical, but they were with us last March," Goldman said. "Where was Robb then? You'll have to ask him."
The governor did not respond to that bait (that's a difference between Virginia Democrats and Republicans: the latter not only fight in public, but they do it before the election).
Robb's press secretary, George Stoddart, agreed with Goldman that "Senator Wilder deserves the credit" for becoming the first black to win a major statewide office in the South. But Stoddart appeared bewildered at Goldman's outburst. He said the governor consulted privately with Wilder on a number of occasions and that he and his wife Linda talked to a number of potential financial contributors on Wilder's behalf.
Nonetheless, despite protestations that he has no plans for higher office, Robb trooped up I-95 the other day with two of the three Virginia winners in tow -- Baliles and Attorney General-elect Mary Sue Terry -- offering them as Exhibits A and B to national party leaders as how Democrats can win elections by putting up moderate candidates.
Goldman said he did not quarrel with those attempting to give credit to Robb. "This is free enterprise politics," he said.
But Goldman, who helped stage Henry E. Howell's 1976 primary upset of former attorney general Andrew P. Miller, said he had to set the record straight. "We had an obligation to people who came out early, who invited us into their homes, to set the record straight."
He said that Robb also opposed two key campaign tactics employed early by Wilder, emphasizing his war record (a Bronze Star in Korea), and a two-month, 2,000-mile trip that took Wilder to every city and county in the state. (Stoddart said it was Robb who first mentioned Wilder's war record when he ad libbed it while making a commercial for Wilder.)
Asked if he were speaking out at Wilder's request, Goldman said only: "Doug knows I'm talking to reporters. It's not anti-Robb, but the people who helped us were probably wondering when they read those stories about a 'grand design.' Well, the proof that there was no grand design was that they Robb and others weren't there" when Wilder took on the "the pundits and the naysayers" last spring.
"We didn't have any national figures come in," Goldman added, although a number of well-known blacks, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, were anxious to campaign for Wilder. "We won this campaign in Virginia, campaigning on Virginia values. We did not ride anyone's coattails."
While Goldman acknowledges that Robb came on strong late in the campaign on Wilder's behalf, he said that "if there is a lesson" to be drawn from the outcome, "it is that you can be an underdog and win."
Another possible lesson is that Wilder already is taking steps to position himself as the front-runner in the 1989 run for governor.
By getting the word out early that he won on his own, rather than on Robb's coattails, Wilder may be trying to separate himself from Attorney General-elect Terry, who had Robb's support all the way and wound up leading the ticket.
If there is a law of natural progression in Virginia politics, it suggests that the next governor should be either Wilder or Terry. The last two Democrats elected governor, Robb and Baliles, moved up from those respective offices, and this year's gubernatorial nominee came from a showdown between the two men who were elected to those offices on the Robb ticket in 1981, Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis and Attorney General Baliles.