Charles S. Robb, a political newcomer who created a campaign that fused money, high visibility, and the celebrity status of being a former President's son-in-law, took a healthy lead over his two opponents in early returns from yesterday's race for lieutenant governor in Virginia's Democratic primary.
Robb, 37, is a medal-winning Vietnam veteran who moved to Virginia to attend law school seven years ago. He is the most conservative of the three candidates in the race, although given his lack of previous experience he has not born a clear label.
Robb's early lead over the well-financed efforts of Richard S. (Major) Reynolds and the labor-endorsed candidacy of Ira M. Lechner was firm. Reynolds tried to forge a victory out of the endorsement of influential late brother, former Lt. Gov. J. Sargeant Reynolds, and was given a strong chance to win.
Edward E. Lane, a conservative legislator from Richmond who earned his reputation as head of the powerful state House Appropriations Committee, had a clear lead over his three opponents with one-fourth of the state's 1,833 precincts reporting. Lane, who is considered a friend of business, quickly jumped ahead of John L. Melnick, a legislator from Arlington, Erwin S. (Shad) Solomon, a colorful House delegate from Bath County, and John T. Schell, a liberal young attorney from Fairfax.
Curiosity about the lieutenant governor's race was strong, largely because to the presence of Robb, who attracted national media attention and contributors with well-known names. The fate of Reynolds, a freshman legislator from Richmond, was also of intetest because of his family connections. The Reynolds family founded and runs Reynolds Metals Co.
Indeed, the whole race was almost a tale of two families. Robb, a novice in politics, took advantage of the celebrity appeal and campaign experience of his wife, the former Lynda Bird Johnson, and her mother, Lady Bird. Reynolds' precedented popularity among a broad coalition of Democrats during his brief career and was considered almost sure to be governor when he died of a brain tumor in 1971 at the age of 34. In commercials and public appearances, Reynolds reffered to his brother and urged voters to let him finish a job his brother left undone.
Robb, who possesses clean-cut, photogenic good looks and an earnest, sincere manner, waged an energetic campaign in whicn he tool a basically pragmatic approach to he parttime job of lieutenant governor. While Reynolds promised to work at creating more jobs for Virgians and Lechner said he would be an active lobbyist in the General Assembly on issues such as education for the handicapped, Robb fashioned the image of an ombudsman and intermediary.
He views the job as a vehicle for citizen and local government participation in state government and promoter of the state's tourism and attractions to industry.
There were few issues in the lieutenant gubernational campaign that caught voter's interest, Reynolds and Lechner attacked Robb. Reynolds, who was counting heavily on the support of black voters to put him over the top, charged Robb with being too cozy with old-line conservatives known for their segregationist views during the troubled era of school desegregation in Virginia. Lechner questioned Robb's use of personal loans to his campaign without revealing plans for paying them off.
The candidates for attorney general all promised more attention to consumers, although each proposed different ways of dealing with the issue. Lane said he would set up an office to dispense consumer information as well as a hot line to the attorney general's office, Melnick said he would create a consumer division separate from the office, Schell promised to work toward a large voice for the Public in all governmental decisions and Solomon said the existing consumer division should be strengthened.
The lieutenant governor is a parttime official whose main constitutional power is to preside over the Senate when the General Assembly is in session. The job pays $10,500 a year and is sought after largely as a stepping stone to higher political office. With its unlimited opportunities for speaking to different groups around the state, the job is a good vehicle to become well known among the voters.
Gov. Mills E. Godwin, himself a former lieutenant governor, once said of the job: ". . . one of the best offices in the state, possessing honor and dignity without power and without too much responsibility except when the Senate is in session."
By the time all the bills are in, spending in the lieutenant gubernatorial race will probably reach more than $900,000 among the three candidates, a record for this office in a primary. Reynolds and Robb spent between $300,000 and $400,000 each and Lechner about $122.
Most of Reynold's money as either loans or gifts from members of his family. His mother donated $100,000 and his father, former head of Reynolds Metals Co., gave $142,000.
Robb had more donors than Reynolds, many of them well-known names like Averell Harriman, Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Tex), David K.E. Bruee, Mrs. Johnson's former press secretary Liz Carpenter, Clark Clifford, Angier Biddle Duke, Abe Fortas and his wife, Orville Freeman, Joseph Hirshhorn, and car dealer Mandell Ourisman. Mrs. Johnson gave $10,000.
Lechner relied hevily on media attention to his marathon walks. During the campaign he walked more than 415 miles, the biggest stretch a journey from the North Carolina border to Northern Virginia. He walked to get attention and support for a bill establishing mandatory sentences for repeat offenders, which was defeated. On Monday he retraced his border-to-border route in a 10-car caravan.
The three candidates for lieutenant governor spent yesterday at a pace similar to the campaign's. Robb started out by visiting polling places in Reston, then traveled to precincts in Richmond and Norfolk before appearing at a party in Alexandria and returning to Richmond.
Reynolds visited precincts in Richmond, while Lechner went from his Arlington precinct to Richmond and back to Arlington for a party. Lechner said repeatedly during the campaign that he plans to fly around the state today promoting the Democratic ticket no matter who wins.