But the meeting was also a reminder that the party is far from united.
Kilgore has no well-known opponent. But Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, who has said he plans to challenge Kilgore, held court with a hospitality suite Friday night. Kilgore's campaign manager, Ken Hutcheson, sent an e-mail of talking points to supporters, urging everyone to "treat Mr. Fitch with respect and politeness" but reminding them that "in time we are sure he will see that Jerry Kilgore is going to be the Republican nominee for Governor."
The record of Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover), who is running for lieutenant governor, was criticized on fliers distributed at the session.
(Steve Helber -- AP)
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Hutcheson's e-mail said he expects Fitch to allege Kilgore's allegiance to the "right wing" of the party. "These claims are obviously absurd and should be casually brushed aside as rhetoric intended to draw the attention of curious members of the press," Hutcheson wrote.
And the candidates angling to be the party's nominees for the other statewide jobs did their best to curry favor, sometimes by challenging the records of their fellow Republicans.
Republicans woke up Saturday to find fliers from Connaughton that accused Bolling of voting to raise taxes when he was a member of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors. Connaughton said his supporters distributed the fliers because Bolling had claimed the anti-tax mantle in the race.
"It's very factual," Connaughton said. "We're going to run a positive campaign. But we've got to make sure the record's straight."
Bolling accused Connaughton of trying to stack the straw poll with outsiders, with such tactics as paying for college Republicans who have not been active in the party to stay at the hotel. Connaughton dismissed the charge but said his campaign did pay for some rooms at the hotel this weekend.
James T. Parmelee, an anti-tax activist in Northern Virginia, said he has been coming to the annual event since 1986, when he was a college sophomore. He said the gatherings are great spectacles for anyone interested in rough-and-tumble politics.
"A political message that normally takes a week to cross the state takes about 10 minutes [here]," he said. "You have a punch, a counterpunch and a second punch all before the second course of lunch."