Aided by his famous wife, his own good looks and a relentlessly moderate approach to issues, Charles S. (Chuck) Robb has "parachuted" out of nowhere, as one politician put it, to Virginia's lieutenant governership - an office seen by some as a mere stepping stone to his higher ambitions.
The name and energetic campaigning of Lynda Bird Johnson Robb helped turn her politically inexperienced husband into a fast-moving front-runner as Robb took a commanding lead over state Sen. A. Joe Canada, his Republican opponent for lieutenant governor, in last night's balloting.
Before the first voter had yet entered a polling booth Virginia Democratic leaders began to talk about a possible Robb race for the U.S. Senate next year and perhaps even the presidency later.
Republicans and Democrats alike agreed yesterday and throughout the campaign with Robb's opponent, who bitterly contended that Robb's candidacy would have garnered little more than chuckles had it not been for his wife Lynda Bird, the memories of her father, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the money she helped to raise.
Robb and his wife, Lynda Bird, voted early yesterday morning in the glare of national television at Langley High School in McLean, a prelude to a day spent campaigning in precincts in both northern Virginia and Richmond. Northern Virginia voters on their way to work yesterday morning were greeted by the daughter of the late President Johnson who welcomed them to polling places in Fairfax and Arlington saying, "Hi, I'm Lynda Bird Robb. Vote for my husband, Chuck."
Her advice, and that of her mother Lady Bird and the star-studded supporting east (such as Carol Channing and Vice President Mondale) that had also campaigned for Robb throughout the election seemed to be taken in full measure yesterday throughout the state.
Raised political eyebrows had greeted Robb's announcement last winter that he planned to vault to the second highest statewide office from his seat on the Fairfax County Democratic committee. The same Democratic politicians who had expressed resentment at what had expressed resentment at what had then seemed impertinence at best, began looking gleefully towards his political future.
"Everyone was saying, 'now here's a man who's trying to start at the top and we resented him for it'," said state Senate Majority Leader Adeiard L. Brault (D-Fairfax).
Before the polls closed, Brault said yesterday, "there's no doubt he'll run for governor and eight years from now he'll be a candidate for President. He's going all the way."
State Sen. Joseph V. Gartland even said yesterday that he could see a scenario where Robb is drafted next year as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate as "the only salvation" for the party's chances for victory.
Badly upstaged by Robb's billing, Canada tried to make Robb's inexperience an issue in contrast to his [WORD ILLEGIBLE] record of six years in the state Senate. Many observers, however, felt that Robb's lack of elective office was more help than hindrance.
"He didn't have the disadvantage of being in office," Brault said. "If you haven't done anything, you can't make a mistake."
"And that's the glory of it," said Del. Ira M. Lechner (D-Arlington) who ran against Robb unsuccessfully for the Democratic lieutenant governor shot last June. "As lieutenant governor, you never have to take a position either. He (Robb) can continue running for President on the exact same basis he ran for lieutenant governor."
Robb, who married Lynda Bird in 1967, graduated from the University of Virginia law school in 1973. Since then he has lived in the McLean area of Fairfax County while practicing law with the Washington firm of Williams, Connolly and Califano.
Before he went to law school, Robb served in the Marine Corps, first as a guard in the White House, where he met his bride, and later in the front lines of the Vietnam War.
His campaign for the lieutenant governor's office soon became a family affair, as Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of the President, came to places like Culpeper to campaign for her son-in-law.
The Johnson family, said Ira Lechner, was a major factor in Robb's successful attempt to enlist the conservatives in his cause.
"I think a lot of conservatives relate to him on a social climbing basis," Lechner said."It's sort of a grouple instinct. Lynda makes them feel very upper class and upper crust."