John N. Dalton appears to be maintaining a lead over Henry E. Howell in the race for governor of Virginia, in which voters will choose Tuesday between a Democrat who arouses extreme feelings among masses of voters and a Republican who is far less known and has generated far less emotion.
These are the findings of a second Washington Post poll on the Virginia campaign conducted last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The registered voters polled by telephone throughout the state favored the Republican candidate Dalton over Howell, the Democrat, by a margin of 48 to 43, with 9 per cent still undecided.
The first Post poll conducted 10 days earlier had shown Dalton leading 44 to 39, with 17 per cent undecided. Although Dalton's lead appeared essentially undiminished in the second poll, Howell seemed to be doing slightly better among independent voters and showed a tiny net gain among voters who switched from one candidate to the other.
A poll the size of The Post's has an inherent margin of possible error of at least 4 per cent in either direction. That, plus heavy last-minute media advertising by both candidates that could sway voter sentiment, make it impossible for the poll to predict the final outcome of the election.
In the lieutenant governor's race, last week's Post poll showed Democrat Charles S. (Chuck) Robb still running far ahead of his Republican opponent, A. Joe Canada. Robb held a wide lead of 52 to 32 per cent over Canada among the voters polled, with 16 per cent undecided.
But in the attorney general's contest, Republican Marshall Coleman made a striking advance between the two Post polls, closing what had been a 38-to-24 gap to only a 42-to-34 lead for Democrat Edward Lane, with 24 per cent still undecided.
The poll results also suggested that Lane's possible margin of victory could come from black voters, who traditionally are heavily Democratic. Some black groups have refused to support Lane because of his support of Virginia's policy of massive resistance to integration in the lat 1950s.
The managers of the Howell and Dalton-campaigns reacted to the findings in the new poll on the governor's race by saying that it shows the race to be as close as they thought. They said the survey reinforces their view that Tuesday's election could turn on the ability of each campaign organization to turn out the hard core of favorable voters who have been identified in weeks of painstaking telephone canvassing.
In The Post's first poll on the governor's conducted Oct. 20 through Oct. 23, one-third of those intending to vote for Dalton said they would do so more because of their dislike of Howell than because of any strong favorable feelings for Dalton.
The second Post poll, in which 774 of the 1,003 persons polled in October were reached again, attempted a better gauge of voter sentiment about Howell and Dalton.
Those polled were asked to state their feelings about the two candidates on a "feeling thermometer" - with the most negative feelings given a score of zero, and most positive a score of 100. Those polled also were asked to rate incumbent Virginia Gov. Mills E. Goodwin, Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., and President Carter.
Of the five public figures, Howell aroused by far the most extreme feelings - earning more scores of both zero and 100 than any of the others.
By contrast, Dalton received fewer scores of zero and fewer scores of 100 than any of the others, and he received far more scores of 50 - a rating than did Howell. In addition, far fewer people assigned any rating at all to Dalton than to Howell, evidence that he is much lesser known to Virginians that his Democratic opponent.
Overall, Howell's score on the feeling thermometer was 48.07, making him the only public figure tested to receive a rating was 58.51.
Hidden in those figures are sharply differing partisan appraisals of Howell, with independents and especially Republicans accounting for his low overall rating.
By party, the feelings toward the two were:[TABLE OMITTED]
Howell's manager, William Rosendahl, and Dalton's manager, William A. Royall, both said the figures do not surprise them. Royall said that the Dalton lead in the poll is small enough "that the last-minute dirty tricks we are seeing in the Howell campaign could cause erosion of it."
Royall said he considers at least two recent developments in the Howell campaign to be "dirty tricks." One is the Howell television commercial in which Rep. Peter W. Rodino (D-N.J.) compares the Dalton campaign to the Watergate crimes that led to the resignation of former President Nixon and the imprisonment of his attorney general and two top White House aides.
Rodino presided over the House impeachment hearings, and the ads have been part of Howell's television campaign during the last 10 days.
Rosendahl said Wednesday that the Rodino spots had been suspended, but a radio version was being broadcast on Thursday.
Royall also cited as a "dirty trick" what he said was a statewide mailing of a letter to senior citizens and people approaching retirement age. The letter contains what appear to be Howell campaign pledges of benefits to elderly and lower-income Virginians, including exemption of property owned by the elderly from real estate taxes and removal of the 4 per cent sales tax on food, clothing and non prescription drugs.
Howell and Rosendahl have disavowed the promises contained in the letter, which was signed by a secretary in the Howell campaign headquarters and mailed by her father, Boyd A. Hogge, a longtime Howell supporter from Falls Church.
Royall and Rosendahl also agreed in separate interviews that The Post poll also shows the race is close enough to be affected by Howell's last-minute emphasis of his favorite issue, the Virginia Electric and Power Co.
Howell has made attacks on Vepco, the state's largest utility company, a central theme of this campaign and of his entire career as a statewide political figure. He charged Friday that Vepco will seek at least a $300 million rate increase shortly after the election. Vepco president R. Justin Moore called Howell's claim "absurd political rhetoric."
Robb's lead in the lieutenant governor poll reflects his widespread name recognition compared to Canada's and his broad support among traditionally Democratic voters.
Canada has charged repeatedly that Robb would not be in the race were it not for his White House marriage to Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson. Robb's only political experience before this race was membership on the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Canada is serving his second term in the state Senate from Virginia Beach.
Coleman and Lane have been engaged in a spirited race, with the 35-year-old Republican state senator from Staunton putting the 53-year-old conservative Democrat from Richmond on the defensive. Lane is chairman of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee.
Coleman has attacked Lane's segregationist background and charged him with conflict of interest for support of bills affecting savings and loan institutions while he owned stock in a Fredericksburg S&L and served as one of its officers.
Coleman has pledged to perpetuate the enlarge role of the attorney general achieved during the tenure of Democrat Andrew P. Miller, Lane has charged that Coleman will try to be a "mini-governor" and says he intends to strictly observe the limits of the office, which he says limits the attorney general to legal advice, not policy-making.