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His lack of an endorsement can be telling. In 2005, he chose not to endorse either Mr. Deeds or Mr. McDonnell in their race for attorney general, but he specifically said he was not supporting Mr. Deeds because the candidate had refused to vote in favor of his one-gun-a-month bill.

He said both men are very pleasant fellows, but he wants them to show their positions before awarding an endorsement, noting that he’s seen positions from Mr. McDonnell on subjects like privatization.

“These are things you can identify and see and they are leadership positions,” he said.

Out of the governor’s mansion for 15 years and no longer mayor of Richmond, Mr. Wilder’s recommendations to Mr. Deeds have a similar ring to what he told Jim Webb when he was running for the U.S. Senate.

“The question is, what reasons will Jim Webb give people to vote for him,” Mr. Wilder told The Washington Times in 2006 before he endorsed Mr. Webb. “There are so many people in the middle that want to have a reason to lean this way or that.”

He endorsed Mr. Kaine a week before his election.

“It helped a lot,” Mr. Kaine told The Times in 2006 “At that point, we felt like we had momentum and it was a confirmation of momentum, which created more momentum.”

The black vote in Virginia has long been elusive for Republicans. George Allen captured 20 percent of the black vote in 1993 when he was elected to succeed Mr. Wilder as governor, and 17 percent when he unseated Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in 2000.

In the 2006 Senate race, black voters abandoned the Republican Party in droves after Mr. Allen called a Webb volunteer “macaca” at a campaign event in 2006. The term, which Mr. Allen said he made up, is considered a racial slur in some cultures.

Twenty percent of Virginia’s population is black, according to the U.S. census. Additionally, the Obama campaign registered thousands of new black voters on his way to winning the state in 2008.

Mr. Deeds trailed his two Democratic rivals among black voters in polls conducted before the primary, and a recent Public Policy Polling survey showed 68 percent of black voters said they would vote for Mr. Deeds. While that number is high, it is far short of some estimates of the number of black voters a Democrat might need to carry the state.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, estimated that Mr. McDonnell could win the election with as little as 15 percent of the black vote.

The poll, which showed Mr. McDonnell with 16 percent support among blacks, was conducted before Mrs. Johnson threw her support to the Republican.

Whether it will translate into votes remains to be seen.

“It might influence some, but we’re talking about a small percentage, a fraction of the African-American vote,” he said, adding “that fraction could be critical.”