IF THERE ARE any credits to be flashed on the home screens at the close--or mercy killing--of this year's top statewide campaigns in Virginia, a disclaimer is in order: "Any similarities betweeen candidates running for the same office are purely intentional and purposely evasive; only the invective has been changed to protect against mass somnolence." But even if the choice for governor is as narrow and drab as the complementary pin stripes on the ties of Charles S. Robb and J. Marshall Coleman, that is the choice--and we come to it today, as one noted father-in-law might have put it, with a heavy heart. The job had best go to Mr. Robb.
Any members of the apparently large and obviously respected school of self-proclaimed "conservatives" who read this as a finding of some trace of-- curses--"liberalism" in the Democratic candidate may relax, because their interests look to be in good hands, come what may. By almost any imperfect measure along these lines, Mr. Robb can match or surpass Mr. Coleman--having already beat him in the sprint to right-of-center, where any serious statewide candidate must be for a shot at it in Virginia.
So even a running down of your traditional checklist of issues contributes little to the scavenger hunt for substantive distinctions. Both gentlemen, as we noted back in June, are for education; tough stands against crime; tourism and new businesses in the state; improved transportation; coal as a primary energy source; help for farmers; a deeper harbor at Hampton Roads; less government regulation; retention of the so-called right-to-work law; elimination of collective bargaining by government employees; a decrease in youth unemployment; an expansion of foreign trade; fatless and firm budgets; minimal taxation; Metro; and, no doubt, a grip on inflation, an embrace of frugality and an armlock on anything resembling sudden change.
Spoon away this political Pablum and you end up weighing other characteristics that, in our view, tip the balance. What comes through the shallow waters is a vague impression that Mr. Robb is less unthinking and more dependable over a long run. Certainly his eye for consensus has helped unite disparate factions in his own party; they see Mr. Robb as capable of maintaining stable and reliable government in Richmond.
One of the strongest arguments for the election of Charles Robb, in our view, is his running mate for lieutenant governor, former Portsmouth mayor Richard J. Davis--a thoroughly experienced, knowledgeable and sensible man whose offer to assist Mr. Robb in the statehouse has been accepted enthusiastically. Mr. Davis has a solid sense of business and finance, of the relationships of the federal, state and local governments and of the legislative personalities--all talents that could assist Mr. Robb enormously. And Mr. Davis clearly deserves to win over Republican Nathan H. Miller, whose difficulties in sorting his careers as public official and lawyer have overshadowed any other aspects of his lackluster campaign.
For attorney general, Republican Wyatt Durrette is preferable to Democrat Gerald Baliles, and we support Mr. Durrette. Both men have the experience and ability, but we think Mr. Durrette would be the better top legal officer of the state. The test here has another dimension as well. Rightly or wrongly, overtly or not, all who run for this office enter themselves in the the contest for governor next time or some not too distant day. Mr. Durrette comes to this larger arena with strong ties in Northern Virginia and the kind of solid legislative experience that should stand him in good stead in the future.