TELEVISION VIEWERS in Virginia (and in neighboring states and the District that are part of the same media markets) are now being treated to the second flight of TV spots for the candidates in the state elections Nov. 5. If you have gotten the impression that these ads look a lot like those you saw a month ago, you're right. For one thing the gubernatorial candidates are still running some of the same spots. More important, campaigns try to build on the messages in their initial ads. For better or worse, these TV spots are most of what many voters learn about the campaign.
Fortunately, both Gerald Baliles and Wyatt Durrette have been running ads that are reasonably fair statements of their positions or defensible attacks on the opposition. Mr. Durrette shows footage of President Reagan speaking on his behalf at George Mason University. "Family, faith, freedom and opportunity are not just campaign slogans for him," Mr. Reagan says. "Wyatt is an experienced, principled leader Virginia can depend on and trust." In another spot Mr. Durrette speaks inspirationally about Virginia "not settling for anything less than first."
You will find that idea in Mr. Baliles' ads as well; both candidates seek to identify themselves with pride in the state's accomplishments and potential. Mr. Baliles is shown going up in an elevator on a construction site (to stirring music); "you can see it rising all around," he says. Economic growth means "jobs, homes, hopes for our children." Such ads are attacked for appealing to emotions. Maybe, but remember that they don't work for the candidate if they don't ring true.
As for negative ads, the gloves are off, but we don't yet see any low blows. Mr. Durrette carefully cites fiscal expert W. Roy Smith, an appointee of Gov. Robb and currently cochairman of Virginians for Durrette, as charging that Mr. Baliles' campaign promises would require a tax increase; Mr. Baliles doesn't agree, but that is the stuff of fair political argument. Mr. Baliles presents two candidates with opposing stands on early release of criminals, the Equal Rights Amendment and a department of environmental protection; "the funny thing is," the announcer says, "both are named Wyatt Durrette." This is the basis for the debatable but fair Baliles ad that accuse Mr. Durrette of "flip-flops" and call Mr. Baliles "consistent" and "steady."
Yet if they are fair, these spots still fail to give voters the information they need -- not because they are bad spots, but in spite of the fact that they are good. They provide about as much information as you can expect in 30 or 10 seconds. But it would be useful if voters interested in education could hear, for even two minutes, Mr. Baliles on funding the standards of quality and Mr. Durrette on merit pay for teachers.
We know, we know: television stations won't sell two-minute ads, and anyway campaigns would be reluctant to pay four times as much for them as for a 30-second ad that reaches as many people. Even 60-second ads are not considered "cost-effective" any more. But we still think it's a shame that amply financed candidates with interesting messages such as those in Virginia can't find a way to present their views on the issues more fully over television.