The political effort that Tuesday elected Republican John N. Dalton governor of Virginia was a highly sophisticated campaign, a $2 million exercise in computer political technology as awesome in its effectiveness as in its costs.
From its inception last January, the campaign was guided in its every step by a series of voter-attitude studies and polls that culminated during the final months with virtual daily polls on the electrorate's view of candidate Dalton and the message he was trying to sell.
The polling was focused on roughly two-thirds of the state's 1,837 voting precinets, which a detailed computer analysis of past voting patterns has shown to have the greatest concentration of potential conservative voters.
For Dalton strategists, the polling produced both good news and bad news. The bad news was that relatively few people knew John Dalton for anything about him. The good news was that almost nobody disliked him.
Although Dalton had served as Virginia's lieutenant governor for four years, he was far less known than his opponent. Henry E. Howell, who had run for governor twice before.
And while his highly organized campaign reveals something about the Radford lawyer's appreciation for the latest technology of political science, it doesn't tell all. Although confident of victory.Dalton shied away from establishing a pre-election transition office. "We thought the people of Virginia might think it presumptuous," he said yesterday.
Daltons polls revealed during the campaign that once targeted voters felt they knew something about Dalton they said they would vote for him.
The greatest concentration of voters who did not know Dalton, it turned out, was in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, where as late as Labor Day some 50 per cent of the electorate remained undecided.
Faced with that information, Dalton strategists made what campaign manager William A. Royall considers the major technical decision of the campaign - to channel fully half of the campaign's $700,000 media budget into Northern Virginia.
By traditional Virginia political standards it was a radical move. Television, newspaper and radio ad rates are enormously higher in the Washington media market than elsewhere in Virginia, and political messages from downstate have a way of getting lost in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Howell once compared spending media dollars in Northern Virginia to dropping butter beans into the ocean.
But Royall, a 31-year-old native of Tazewell, Va., by way of the GOp National Committee, decided it was worth the gamble.
The traditional wisdom was to spend heavily in the Richmond area third Congressional District, historic haven for vast conversative majorities. Royal said, "But our polling showed everyone had pretty much chosen up sides early in the third," Royal said. "It didn't make sense to spend money selling people who were already sold. We had to go where the undecided voters were."
The result was an enormous multi-media effort targeted in an area roughly north of Culpeper and cast of Winchester. Into that area the Dalton campaign not only poured television and radio ads but channeled more than 250,000 letters in what Royall calls the "largest direct-mail operation in Virginia political history."
The Dalton strategists also comissioned a four-color newspaper supplement to be inserted in newspapers reaching the Northern Virginia market.
"Northern Virginia was our number one priority," Royal said. "Outside of there we found the undecided voters sprinkled pretty evenly across the rest of the state. We ended up spending almost nothing in the Third District and dividing the media budget between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state outside Richmond."
As the direct-mail newspaper and broadcasting avalanche began, 27 separate telephone banks around the state swung into play, with workers calling every registered voter in the targeted precincts and asking their preference in the governor's race.
The Dalton voters were targeted for election day calls. The undecideds were sent literature and called back again. The whole process was constantly monitored by polls taken by Decision Making Information Inc., headquartered in Santa Ana, Calif.
On election day the phone banks hummed constantly. Kenneth Kling, one of Dalton's chief analysts, said Tuesday night the campaign had made 400,000 telephone calls that day, 200,000 in the last hours.
The results showed up even before the polls closed.
At noon Tuesday Royall, although concerned about rainfall in the heavily Republican Shenandoah Valley, was cheered by a new set of figures from his polls. The computer had shown him that in the most heavily pro-Dalton precints, nearly 20 per cent of the voters had already turned out, while in the targeted pro-Howell precincts the margin of turnout was running as low as 9 per cent.
"We're getting more of our people out than they are," he said. "But the Howell averages still look too low. Those precincts always vote later anyway."
At that point he was projecting what he and Kling considered "the worst case" that the Dalton campaign would produce; A 1.1-million voters turnout with Dalton winning by 50.2 per cent.
But the full dimension of the Dalton victory staggered even Royall.
"We're getting a lot of credit in some areas that we really don't deserve," he said. "It was more than just the machinery. A lot of things just came together in this campaign. Virginia was just ready for somebody like John Dalton."