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Va. GOP Sees Opportunity in Democrats' Rage at Rep. Goode

Impeachment Debate

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  • By Spencer S. Hsu
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 23, 1998; Page A05

    The rancor among Democrats over Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr.'s voting to impeach President Clinton has revived Republican hopes that he might switch parties.

    Goode, a conservative Democrat from rural Virginia, is under fire from local party members who have threatened to deny him renomination in 2000 because he voted for impeachment.

    Of five House Democrats who voted Saturday to impeach Clinton, only Goode faces a backlash from activists, according to the representatives' offices. Most of the heat has been felt by Republicans opposing impeachment. GOP conservatives have been Clinton's harshest critics.

    Goode ran unopposed in his tobacco-belt district last month. Clinton is not popular there (his GOP opponents carried the district in the 1992 and 1996 elections), and Goode was recruited by party leaders in 1996 as one of the few Democrats who could carry its pro-gun, antiabortion voters.

    But yesterday, Carl U. Eggleston, Democratic chairman for the 5th Congressional District, predicted "serious trouble" for Goode. If the nomination were "tomorrow or next week, I don't see that Mr. Goode would come up with the numbers," he said. "Democrats feel that if Mr. Goode cannot carry the party's banner up the hill, why nominate him?"

    Fluvanna County Democrats wrote Goode that based on his impeachment votes, "we will support any viable Democratic candidate against you."

    In Franklin County, where Goode's wife, Lucy, is party treasurer, the county Democratic chairman, David W. Talbott, also expressed disaffection. "We could have understood what he did if the polls indicated that the majority of the people wanted impeachment, but that's certainly not the case," Talbott said. "Maybe a lot of Democrats feel that if Virgil Goode were to switch to the Republican Party, it would settle the issue once and for all."

    State Republicans would welcome Goode to their ranks.

    "Virgil Goode cast a principled vote," district GOP Chairman Tucker C. Watkins said, "and we always have a place in the Republican Party for principled people."

    Analysts and some leading Democrats said it would be foolish for the party to drive Goode out. Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), the state party chairman, stayed carefully neutral on the local dispute while defending one of the state's six Democratic House members.

    "Virgil's right in casting a vote he thought was right. People are also right to hold him accountable to that vote. I'm not going to try to prevent either from doing that," Plum said. "In the final analysis, Virgil also casts many good votes for Democrats . . . and I feel very comfortable he's going to stay in the Democratic Party."

    Goode aides said that both he and local activists "got their backs up" in the bitter impeachment fight and that venting was to be expected. But they said he enjoys strong constituent backing and quiet party support.

    In his only post-vote remarks, Goode told the Roanoke Times: "Some are mad. Some are glad."

    "I vote my conscience," Goode said, deflecting questions about party-switching. "I try on every issue."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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