RICHMOND, Va. -- The issue is change and the name of the game is albatross-hanging as the campaign to elect a new governor of Virginia on Nov. 2 comes down to the wire.
With Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder stepping aside under a state law that bars two consecutive terms, both Mary Sue Terry, the Democratic state attorney general, and George F. Allen, a former Republican congressman, are telling voters they represent the change that polls say the voters want.
After 12 years of Democratic control of the governor's mansion, Mr. Allen, son of the late Washington Redskins football coach, has the much easier sales job. But Ms. Terry is warning that his election would deliver the state into the hands of "extremists" of the religious right.
She hopes to win by casting television evangelist Marion G. "Pat" Robertson as a weight around Mr. Allen's neck, pointing to Mr. Robertson's financial support of his campaign and their shared conservative views on a number of issues. Mr. Allen in turn sees victory in linking Ms. Terry closely to Mr. Wilder and Sen. Charles S. Robb, whose famous feud has tarnished not only their own reputations but that of their party.
The albatross-hanging doesn't stop there. During a statewide televised debate here the other night, Mr. Allen responded to TV commercials painting him as Mr. Robertson's political disciple by pointing out that in the 1988 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he backed George Bush over Mr. Robertson. He said he voted for Mr. Bush again in 1992, and for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.
Mr. Allen then challenged Ms. Terry to own up to voting for the Democrat in each of those elections -- Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter F. Mondale in 1984, Michael S. Dukakis in 1988 and Bill Clinton in 1992 -- all of whom lost in Virginia. She sidestepped the challenge, instead attacking Mr. Allen's support for vouchers enabling parents to send their children to the private schools of their choice.
The exchange was a prime example of the guilt-by-association strategy central to both campaigns. Mr. Allen refers repeatedly to "the Wilder-Terry administration" and occasionally to "the Wilder-Robb-Terry party." And President Clinton's shaky start in Washington hasn't helped Ms. Terry much either.
In making the argument that Mr. Allen's election would put the state in the hands of religious right-wing "extremists," Ms. Terry has another convenient albatross to hang around his neck -- his running mate, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Michael P. Farris. Mr. Farris is an outspoken born-again Christian lay leader and lawyer whose views, alleged or real, have made him the subject of Democratic ridicule.
An advocate of home study, he has referred to the public school system as a "godless monstrosity" and favors, among other things, leaving the decision on vaccinating school children up to their parents, not medical authorities. He once represented the Christian parents of children expelled from school for balking at reading, presumably because of references to witches and witchcraft, a textbook series that included "The Wizard of Oz" and other children's classics.
Mr. Farris' Democratic opponent, incumbent Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., has been running a television ad charging that Mr. Farris "actually tried to force public schools to remove" the book, which he never did. But that hasn't stopped Ms. Terry from trying to make the case a metaphor for a religious right takeover in Richmond.
After arriving late to another recent debate in McLean, she got a laugh by explaining that she was in her room practicing singing "We're off to see the Wizard." And at the latest debate in Richmond, two young aides showed up dressed as the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.
Such Terry campaign high jinks have been relatively mild, however, compared to efforts by some Allen supporters, including prospective 1994 Republican senatorial candidate Oliver L. North of Iran-contra notoriety, to make an issue of Ms. Terry's status as an unmarried, childless woman. Earlier this month, Mr. North said "it's time to turn the governor's mansion from a cold, stone, sterile building into a home for a man and a woman, where you can hear the laughter of children" -- a shot not only at Ms. Terry but also at the divorced Mr. Wilder.
The most recent poll by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research had Mr. Allen leading, 48 percent to 41 percent, with a surprising finding that Mr. Allen was also slightly ahead, 43 percent to 42 percent, among women.
To address this aberration, Ms. Terry is focusing in the closing days of the campaign on two issues of prime interest to women -- abortion rights and education. She tells audiences that "I'm pro-choice and he [Mr. Allen] is multiple choice" -- an allusion to her opponent's wooing of right-to-life groups while saying his position is one of "reasonable moderation" that favors parental notification for young teen-agers seeking abortions.
Debate over crime
Mr. Allen, for his part, presses one proposal above all others -- scrapping the state's parole system in favor of mandatory sentencing for violent crimes as the answer to one of Virginia's most fearful problems. Ms. Terry says this drastic step, taken in some other states, has not reduced violent crime. A better answer, she says, is tougher gun control, which Mr. Allen, a recipient of National Rifle Association support, opposes.
In the end, however, the Nov. 2 election will probably come down to which candidate more effectively makes the case for being an agent of change -- and survives the albatrosses hung around his or her neck by the opposition.