The Virginia Democratic ticket, appearing before a group that many people expected to be overwhelmingly supportive, today won only a mildly enthusiastic response from the state NAACP convention.
Even state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the party's candidate for lieutenant governor and the first black nominated for a statewide office by a major political party, received a standing ovation from only half of the delegates here.
Republican Wyatt B. Durrette's greeting was discernably tepid and was not helped by a gaffe the GOP gubernatorial candidate made as he appealed for support in his Nov. 5 race against Democrat Gerald L. Baliles.
"You don't have just one candidate trying to get your support and take you for granted -- you've got two," Durrette shouted to the crowd that has just finished a turkey and corn bread lunch. As he stepped from behind the podium, mobbed by reporters, staff members quickly pushed to his side whispering, "I think you misspoke, I think you misspoke." Durrette, the only member of the GOP ticket to appear at the event, dropped his head in his hands and moaned that he had meant to say "NOT take you for granted."
While the candidates have tended to skirt racial issues, all today were quick to embrace their commitment to black voters. The three Democratic candidates made repeated references to their "historic" ticket, the first to have a black and a woman.
"What started out with no chance has come to be a chance," said Wilder, referring to the early misgivings of many Democrats about his candidacy.
Durrette, who drew loud disapproval when he attacked Baliles, said the reception was close to what he expected. "The black voters of Virginia have been traditionally Democratic," he said, adding that "we will get an unprecedented large percentage this election."
Baliles, a former state attorney general, declined to characterize the response he received today. "I was here last night and thought the reception was very good and warm," he said.
While some of the more than 250 NAACP representatives attending today's candidates' luncheon blamed the lukewarm receptions on the organization's efforts to remain bipartisan, others said the response illustrated the concerns of many black voters.
"Wilder is taking black voters for granted," said Wymond Mitchel, former president of the Nottoway County NAACP. "Even though they're going to vote for him, they resent it."
Baliles told the group that he would build on the progess of the administration of Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb, continuing programs for minority-owned businesses and voter registration -- comments that brought polite applause.
Democratic state Del. Mary Sue Terry of Patrick County also addressed the group, promising that if she is elected state attorney general she will run an office committed to "equality and justice."
State Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford County, the Republican nominee for lieutentant governor, and state Del. W.R. (Buster) O'Brien of Virginia Beach, GOP nominee for attorney general, did not appear before the convention. A NAACP spokesman said both were invited and said Chichester declined because of other commitments and O'Brien called to say he had been delayed by traffic.