In September Gordon C. Morse, echoing the backroom talk in the Virginia governor's office concerning L. Douglas Wilder's run for mayor of Richmond, wrote, "Wilder should sweep the white vote, but he may have problems in the predominantly black portions of the capital city" [Close to Home, Sept. 26].

This type of thinking no doubt explains in large part why a fellow Democrat, Gov. Mark R. Warner, failed to back Wilder's candidacy in a race against incumbent Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum Jr. even though the local Democratic Party endorsed Wilder. The whisper among state Democratic Party officials and functionaries was that African Americans saw Wilder as a sellout to the white business establishment.

Indeed, as I write this column, Warner has yet to make a congratulatory call to the Richmond mayor-elect. That silence speaks volumes.

What was the final vote in the Wilder-McCollum race?

In the largest Democratic city in the state, a jurisdiction with a 57 percent African American population, Wilder won 80 percent of the vote, carrying every precinct by a huge margin.

So why did Warner and state Democrats get it so wrong?

To be sure, Warner and Wilder have clashed on taxes, with Warner favoring a record increase in the regressive sales tax and Wilder opposing it. But Wilder's opposition extends back to at least 1985.

Moreover, McCollum based his campaign in large measure on support for Warner's tax increases, thus wrapping himself in the governor's mantle.

Further, a poll said that the race between Wilder and McCollum was close, with McCollum having an edge among African Americans.

So I ask again: Why were the Democrats so wrong and so anti-Wilder?

While analogies are always risky, the anti-Wilder display among Virginia Democrats may suggest why the national Democratic Party lost the South to George Bush in the presidential election.

Yes, statewide Democrats and editorial writers such as Morse think that heavier taxes are the right thing to do. They seem to feel that they need to save average citizens from themselves.

But Democrats in the commonwealth's biggest Democratic city sent Virginia's leaders a strong message on Nov. 2: They are tired of being treated like children by their elected leaders and self-appointed pundits.

Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine was the only Democrat in statewide office to publicly endorse Wilder. Breaking with the governor to endorse Wilder showed character and guts, but Kaine likely will pay a price inside the party for his stance.

But the anti-Wilder sentiment is not going to help Democratic state party leaders in 2005. Many grass-roots Democrats believe that raising regressive sales taxes to pay for a huge break on estate taxes for a handful of Virginia's wealthiest families -- the original tax plan of Warner and the General Assembly Democrats -- was irresponsible. That doesn't make us Warner haters or Republicans. It just makes us Southern Democrats -- the kind the Democratic Party will need in 2005 and 2008.

-- Paul Goldman

was the chief political strategist

for L. Douglas Wilder's

mayoral campaign.

GoldmanUSA@aol.com