- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

NORFOLK After a second Sunday of wooing black churchgoers, Virginia Sen. Charles S. Robb used the final precious hours of his re-election campaign in a traditional Democratic swing through the rural southwest, hoping to mine a vein of union voters.

His Republican challenger, George F. Allen, spent his time in the west too, making stops at airports in the Shenandoah Valley and Lynchburg and ending at Bluefield College, right on the West Virginia border.

Both men are making their final pitches to turn out their voting base tomorrow for a race that looks fairly close. A poll released yesterday by the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed a tight race, with Mr. Allen leading Mr. Robb 45 percent to 43 percent, though a Mason-Dixon poll released late last week showed a five-point margin for Mr. Allen.

The Times-Dispatch poll showed Mr. Robb has some work to do among black voters. It showed him drawing 69 percent support to Mr. Allen's 14 percent support. Virginia elections-watchers say Mr. Robb has to win about 90 percent of black voters and have them turn out at a high percentage for him to win.

So Mr. Robb turned to God.

He was greeted warmly as he visited six predominantly black churches in Norfolk and one in Portsmouth yesterday, accompanied by black lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Democrat who represents the 3rd District, and state Delegate Jerrauld C. Jones, a Democrat from Norfolk.

The ministers walked just this side of endorsing Mr. Robb, which as tax-exempt entities churches are not allowed to do.

"It's voting time, church," said the Rev. G.G. Campbell at New Calvary Baptist Church in Norfolk.

"I can't tell you who to vote for. I can't tell you to go vote for [Democratic candidate] Al Gore. I cannot tell you to go vote for [the son-in-law] of a president who supports our voting rights," Mr. Campbell said. Mr. Robb's father-in-law, President Lyndon B. Johnson, presided over many of the civil rights gains of the 1960s.

Mr. Campbell also pointedly told the congregation that Mr. Allen didn't ask to come to the church, while Mr. Robb did.

"I can't tell you how much I appreciated what he couldn't tell you," Mr. Robb said, to laughter and cheers in the church.

But Mr. Robb has a tough sell. Pundits say black voters aren't scared of Mr. Allen and won't turn out just to vote against him. Even former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the first black person elected to a governorship in the country, who is campaigning with Mr. Robb, says Mr. Allen isn't a figure to be scared of.

Mr. Robb, though, made no special appeal to black voters yesterday other than that he is a Democrat who supports the traditional Democratic plan.

"You are picking a future with respect to education, and the environment, and health care, and prescription drugs under Medicare, and a whole series of [issues] with respect to retirees of the military, making sure we keep the promise, and a whole series of rights which include civil rights, equal rights, voting rights and human rights," he told the congregation at New Calvary. "All those are very much in play. And however we vote on Tuesday will make a very significant impact on what your government does. We can move the ball forward or we can move the ball backward."

Mr. Robb then headed to southwestern Virginia, where coal miners are still a powerful voting bloc. That explains why Democrats still do well in this region, which is more conservative than usual Democratic strongholds.

Republicans in the region had thought Mr. Gore and Mr. Robb's support for some gun restrictions might give Mr. Allen, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, up to 50 percent support among union members.

But now they are not sure how the union vote will play out, since they have heard of phone calls going out to union members telling them if they vote for Mr. Allen or Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush they will lose their union benefits.

Mr. Allen also visited coal mining country yesterday, stopping in Bluefield, which straddles the West Virginia border near Interstate 77.

His message was the same there as it was at every stop over the weekend, where he spoke at get-out-the-vote rallies in Springfield, Winchester and down the Interstate 81 corridor.

"Reach out to everyone, no matter their race, their religious beliefs, no matter their ethnic origin, no matter their gender. Reach out to folks who pay taxes, who work for a living, who care about their families," he told supporters in Springfield on Saturday. "Let them know that we are running on a positive agenda of protecting Social Security, of reinvesting and reinvigorating our national defense, and improving education with more teachers and also trusting parents with a $1,000 education tax credit."

Mr. Allen wasn't targeting a particular group in the final days perhaps because his base of staunch Republicans is spread across the state.

Northern Virginia is the one area where he was thought to be weak, but recent polls show he is doing well there.

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