The long campaign for governor of Virginia ended yesterday in a climactic round of angry recriminations on the eve of today's election as Republican John N. Dalton and Democrat Henry E. Howell campaigned in seven cities across the state.
Dalton, returning to his western Virginia home base, denounced a Howell campaign commercial falsely accusing Dalton of favoring gun control. It was aired throughout the western part of the state where gun ownership is an emotional issue.
Howell spent the day near his southeastern Virginia hometown of Norfolk, while his campaign manager charged that a "Message from Lieutenant Governor John Dalton" aired on news casts in flooded areas of Southwest Virginia yesterday was an example of a "dirty trick."
Howell interrupted his campaign in Courtland, Va., near the North Carolina border, to take a good luck telephone call from President Carter. he said later that the President "wanted the people of Virginia to have the benefit of my leadership."
Dalton made his new charge yesterday in a campaign filled with increasingly bitter accusations. He attacked radio commercials Howell is running that say that Dalton this year "supported strict statewide registration of handguns." The commercials also say that Howell has "consistently supported the right to bear arms."
John Towler, a former state delegate from Roanoke and a Howell campaign leader in that area, said in an interview that he procuded and distributed the ad. The commercial, Towler said, refers to an abortive effort by Republican Gov. Mills E. Goodwin in the last session of the General Assembly to pass legislation enabling the state to monitor sales of cheap handguns, often called Saturday Night Specials.
Dalton, the state's lieutenant governor, said in an interview that he did not favor the measure and added, "No one consulted me about it. I just kept my mouth shut about it. Everyone knew it wasn't going anywhere in the Assembly."
Towler said that because Dalton did not speak publicly about the bill it is fair to say that he supported it. Howell's principal campaign manager, William Rosenthal, agreed with the Towler position. Both campaign officials said the ad is a "relaliation" for Dalton's statement about Howell's gun control record.
Dalton frequently says that Howell consponsored a gun control bill in 1964 and in 1969 was the only state senator to vote against a state constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms. Howell said he cast that vote for procedural reasons and says that he later voted for the constitutional section including the arms provision.
Rosenthal said the Dalton statement unfairly implies that Howell still favors gun control, which he does not. Dalton said in a press conference today that he does not misrepresent Howell's present stand.
The gun control argument is one of several disputes over late campaign direct mail and media advertising techniques. Virginia has no state law regulating campaign statements and practices other than contributions and spending.
Howell's campaign manager was angered yesterday over a "Message from Lieutenant Governor John Dalton" aired in flooded areas of southwest Virginia. In it, Dalton said he was "deeply concerned about the personal tragedy and suffering of the families who have been evacuated in southwest Virginia due to the recent flooding." The message is not identified as a political announcement.
In Richmond, Richard Lobb, Dalton's press secretary, said the Dalton campaign had not purchased any ads to carry the statement. "What they are complaining about is one of the news actualities (recordings) we have put out," he said. "It was intended to be a news story and not a public service announcement."
Dalton continued during his windup tour to cry foul over a mass mailing in Howell's name that promises that the Democrat would seek repeal of the sales tax on food and clothing and work for a tax exemption for real estate owned by elderly persons.
Howell has disavowed the proposals in the letter, mailed by Boyd Hogge of Falls Church under a bulk mail permit used by the Howell campaign. Dalton said today that the letter is "misleading voters throuthout the state."
A Northern Virginia Howell coordinator said the Howell staff had tried to block Hogge from mailing out the letters. Hogge mailed the letters anyway, telling postal authorities he had the right to use a bulk mail permit belonging to the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, according to Elaine Kent, Howell's 10th Congressional District coordinator. "I almost died when I found out," she said.
Howell supporters were clearly upset by the Hogge mailing and some were angered by Republican efforts to make a major issue out of it. Hogge may have mailed out as many as 100,000 of the letters before the Howell staff discovered what he had done, kent said. Even then, he managed to trustrate efforts to stop him, she said.
On Saturday, Kent said she went to the Merrifield Post Office in Fairfax County after being told by postal officials that Hogge was attempting another mailing under the permit. But Hogge returned to the post office later, paid first-class rates on the letters and mailed them anyway, Kent said. A postal official at Merrifield confirmed the incident yesterday.
"He's done it totally on his own," Kent said. This weekend both Gov. Mills E. Godwin and Dalton pictuured the letters as part of Howell's effort to confuse voters.
In the letter, which appears to be on the letterhead of the Howell campaign. Howell is quoted as saying he wants the state legislature to repeal the state's 4 per cent tax on food and clothing - a position Howell has not taken in the campaign. Other portions of the letter are confusing and seemingly unrelated to the campaign.
"Not only does it misrepresent Henry's position, but it's illiterate, too," Kent said. One sentence in the letter says "Out of 5,000 churches in Virginia, 40 per cent are widow, trying to live and survive on Social Security income and cannot."
Rosendahl said the Howell staff had no idea where Hogge, a retired lay minister whom Rosendahl said "does his own thing," got the list or the stationery he used for the mailing.
In an interview Hogge said "God in Heaven only knows" how many of the letters were mailed.