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Va. Gov. Hopeful Beyer Courts NAACP

October 25, 1997 GMT

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) _ Stung by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s refusal to endorse him, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Don Beyer sought to energize black supporters with an appearance Friday night before the NAACP.

Beyer debated Reform Party candidate Sue Harris Debauche at the civil rights group’s state convention.

Republican Jim Gilmore refused to debate, and officials at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denied his request for a separate appearance.

Gilmore pulled out of the debate, citing the ``outrageous behavior″ of Beyer in a debate earlier this month. Beyer had accused Gilmore of making plea bargains that resulted in light sentences for 35 child molesters when Gilmore was a prosecutor.

Beyer’s campaign acknowledged the candidate misspoke. Only nine of the 35 cases were settled by written plea agreements.

The NAACP does not endorse candidates, but Beyer received a warm reception.

Beyer and Ms. Debauche agreed on most issues during the hourlong debate. For example, they both criticized Gilmore’s proposal to cut the local personal property tax on cars and trucks. Ms. Debauche called the proposal irresponsible, and Beyer called it reckless.

Beyer’s task of mobilizing black voters, who historically vote Democratic, was made tougher Monday when Wilder announced that he would not endorse either candidate.

Beyer needs the black vote more than ever since polls this week showed Gilmore opening a lead of 5 to 7 percentage points in the previously deadlocked race. Blacks make up about 18 percent of the Virginia electorate.

Wilder, the nation’s first black elected governor, still holds considerable influence with black voters nearly four years after leaving office.