The chairman of Virginia's Democratic Party sat on a worn, folding chair in a tiny room at the State Capitol this afternoon and warned that unless his party becomes better organized it will continue to lose state elections "for years to come."
Twenty minutes after Democrat Joseph T.Fitzpatrick blurted to newsmen "I'm so sick and tired of losing I don't know what to do," it was the victors turn.
Sitting in his third-floor office in a highbank blue leather chair embossed with a golden state seal. Republican Gov. Mills E. Godwin bitterly retraced his expulsion from the Democratic Party five years ago. The reason for the party's troubles, said Godwin, who is now ending his second term, is the influence of Fitzpatrick and other Democratic Party leaders.
Both in their surroundings and in their statements the two men illustrated the broadening chasm that development between Virginia Democrats and the electorate after the election of the third successive Republican governor.
Today as he met reporters at a hastily called news conference. Fitzpatrick, a state senator from Norfolk, drew a picture of a bleak future for the party. The Democrats money troubles are so severe that Fitzpatrick suggested that the party may not want to use a primary to select its U.S. Senate nominee next year. His comments are certain to stir controversy among the party's officials although Fitzpatrick took blame for much of the Democrats' current trouble.
Godwin, at a later press conference that drew one-thir more reporters than did Fitzpatrick's said his party is not without its own troubles, principally in translating its statewide victories into local ones.
Despite Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton's landslide defeat of Democrat Henry E. Howell for governor Tuesday, the GOP gained only four new seats in the 100-member House of Delegates and local offices across the state remain largely in Democratic hands.
Fitzpatrick called his news conference to announce he was sending a letter of congratualtion to Dalton - something Howell has not done - and to offer to cooperate with the new administration. Fitzpatrick, unlike other party leaders would not rule Howell out of the Democrat's future nor would he critize Howell for failing to send Dalton congratulations.
Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault (D-Firfax) said earlier this week: "Henry, I thin, will have to step aside. I don't think Henry can any longer be sonsidered a viable influence in the Democratic Party. It's his third defeat (for governor) and that ought to be the end."
Fitzpatrick said today: "Henry's role in the future is something that he's got to determine." Howell, 57, said after his defeat that he is not ruling out the possibility of making a fourth run for governor in 1981 when he will be 61.
Fitzpatrick said Dalton's lopsided victory indicated there was virtually nothing Howell could have done to stop a Republican victory. "The numbers just weren't there," he said.
Dalton's victory was "the result of four year of hard work" by Virginia Republican party organizers, he said. "They have been spending $450,000 a year and we're seeing the results."
Virginia's Democratic Party, by comparison, has been so pressed for funds that it has had difficulty paying the rent and expenses for its Richmond headquarters, he acknowledged. "Unless we become competitive, they are going to win elections for years to come," said Fitzpatrick, who managed Howell's 1969 race for governor.
"I'm not crying sour grapes," he said, nothing that for years he has been cautioning Demecrats about the Republican Party's effort to build a state party. Today Fitzpatrick said he had doubts that former Attorney General Andrew P. Miller, whom Howell defeated in a June 14 primary, could have managed to defeat Dalton.
Fitzpatrick said Dalton will have for more favorable relations with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly than will State Sen. J. Marshall Coleman, a Staunton Republican who was elected attorney general Tuesday. "I really don't think there's going to any honeymoon" with Coleman, Fitzpatrick said. Coleman "did not endear himself to the members of both bodies (the House and Senate)," with his often-biting, critical speeches, Fitzpatrick said.
At Godwin's news conference, the governor said he saw Dalton's victory as, in part, reflecting "an affirmation of the record of this administration." As for Godwin said he blamed the leadership of the state party and its failure to support "moderate to conservative" governmental policies.
Democratic Del. Edward E. Lane of Richmond, whom Godwin supported against Coleman, lost because "he was perceived in the public maind as too close to Mr. Howell," Godwin said.
Godwin, who narrowly defeated Howell four years ago and campaigned against him again this year, today would offer "no judgement" on what Howell's political future in Virginia would be. "I have no way of reading the gentleman's mind," he said.