In spearate rites of election-year spring, Virginia's Democrats and Republicans appear to have counted the requisite numbers of noses in caucuses around the state to set the scene for the governor's race. Though no towels have been tossed in by the two apparent losers -- they're challenging the totals -- the results right now point to Gerald L. Baliles as the Democratic nominee and Wyatt B. Durrette, whom Mr. Baliles defeated four years ago in the race for attorney general, as the Republican choice. A contest between them may not be the liveliest, but it could well prove to be engrossing.
And even if this square-off isn't yet official, the results of the two parties' somewhat confusing candidate-selection processes indicate that both the past and presence of Gov. Charles Robb will figure heavily in this fall's campaign. Clearly Mr. Baliles and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis, tried to pattern their appeals on the one that swept Mr. Robb and the two of them into office last time. Each recognized that Gov. Robb managed to assemble -- and then to keep -- a coalition of party regulars, blacks and people considered to the left of Virginia's establishment.
This, Democrats discovered to their delight, was how to end a dozen years of GOP control in Richmond. Mr. Baliles in particular sought out the same voters, being careful not to become tagged as the candidate of any one group. Mr. Davis tried, too, but he kept being haunted by two naughty "L" words in Virginia politics -- "liberal" and "labor" -- even if neither was all that apt in respect to him.
What Mr. Baliles did is what clicked for Gov. Robb: signal to the left, then move right before cutting toward the center. In a contest among Republicans, you reverse the directions and wind up in he same place for the general election. Mr. Durrette seems to have done enough of this to outmaneuver his opponent, Rep. Stan Parris, who tried to make an issue of Mr. Durrette's "electability" in a race against Mr. Baliles.
If the strong influence of Gov. Robb's victory and his administration continues, and if Mr. Robb is active on the campaign trail, the Republicans' candidate will be up against a stiff challenge: how to tell a large and seemingly content set of voters that they need a change of administration in Richmond. But there is plenty of time until November.