The Virginia Democratic Convention to select a candidate for the U.S. Senate will be held in Williamsburg June 9 and 10. Because of an editing error the dates were not clear in a story that appeared in Monday's editions.
A coalition that represents a majority of the 2,795 delegates to Virginia's upcoming state Democratic convention has intensified its drive to derail front running Andrew P. Miller and throw the party's Senate nomination to someone else.
The coalition has focused its efforts on a rules change that is threatening to become the first crucial test for the coalition at next weekend's convention in Williamsburg.
The dispute has divided the party over a rule that would be likely to have the effect of eliminating half of the candidates in the eight-member field after the first ballot.
Miller, the former state attorney general, has taken no formal position on the rules question, although his campaign manager denounced it. Friday as an attempt to "gang up" on his candidate and obstruct the convention.
In what they described as an unusual spirit of cooperation, campaign representatives of State Sen. Clive Duval, state Sen. Hunter B. Andrews, former Del. Carrington Williams of Fairfax, former Fairfax County supervisor Rufus Phillips, and Norfolk city councilman G. Conoly Phillips have been meeting regularly since mid-April. It was then that delegates to the convention's were selected at mass meetings across the state, and Miller emerged with a strong lead in delegates.
Last week all but Conoly Phillips sponsored a mailing to all the delegates and alternates describing their proposed convention rules. In addition, the group has discussed hiring a political consultant with a national reputation, Rick Stearns, to manage the rules fight at the convention if Miller decides to oppose the coalition's proposals.
Stearns, who has been a consultant to Andrews' campaign while holding down a job as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts, is considered one of the key people behind George McGovern's winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.
The rules, proposed by a temporary rules committee, must be adopted by the convention delegates before th nominating procedure starts. As drafted by temporary chairman Raymond Colley, the rules would require any candidate who received less than 5 per cent of the delegates' votes to drop out of succeeding ballots. The number needed to nominate a candidate would be a majority of the delegates present at any one time, under the Colley rules.
These rules likely would prevent Williams, Andrews, women's activist Flora Crater of Falls Church and Frederick Babson of Virginia Beach from remaining in the competition after the first ballot. Each won less than 5 per cent of the delegates during the mass meetings last month.
The coalition proposes that the rules instead be modeled upon those for national presidential nominating conventions, where there is no elimination requirement and the candidate must be selected by a majority of the delegates elected. Supporters of this view say that the 5 per cent rule is unfair. They say a "true vote" will not be seen until the second or third ballot when delegates elected to support a particular candidate are released from their pledges and can vote, presumably, for their "real" choice.
"The point of the coalition is to prevent a convention in which the nominee is everyone's fourth choice - Andrew Miller," said Steve Fleming a DuVal aide. "The 5 percent rule forces people to make choices they don't want by eliminating the competition to a choice between two or three people."
Colley, who said he wants to be appointed the convention's rules chairman, said dropping the 5 per cent elimination rule and requiring the candidate to get a majority of the elected delegates - 1,398 votes - could delay the convention interminably.
Miller, who lost a bid for the party's nomination for governor last year to Henry Howell, is believed to have about 1,200 delegates - about 200 short of the number. "We think Miller is in the same condition as last year, when he was the alleged front runner, but he never got the piggies over the doorsill," E. Sherman Webb, manager for Rufus Phillips.
The coalition leaders "just don't want to bite the bullet," Colley said, their strategy is to sit there until everyone gets tired and someone drops out."
"These (Colley) rules are designed to control the convention for the benefit of one candidate," said Webb. "If this were a national presidential convention it would be called a scandal."
Party chairman Joseph T. Fitzpatrick said in a letter to the coalition that the question would be decided by the convention's rules committee, which will be elected after the meeting convenes June 9.
Jim Paxton, Miller's manager, said the coalition's proposal breaks with precedent at Virginia conventions. "I think the sentiment among the delegates is that these fellows are just ganging up against Andrew."
Fleming said the coalition formed naturally after the returns from the April 15 mass meetings showed that Miller did not have enough delegates committed to him for a certain victory. It was clear, he said, that "beating Miller means breaking this convention wide open."
Miller has about 1,000 delegates committed to him on the first ballot, but other campaigners say many of their people are hidden in the Miller camp. Miller also claims several hundred of the undecided.
Fleming said the coalition's proposal would benefit Miller by allowing a "fair and open" convention that would promote unity behind whichever candidate wins.
Paxton said that party unity is one of the main factors Miller and his advisers are considering in deciding which tack to take on the rules issue. Colley says he is prepared to support a compromise on the 5 per cent issue.
In any case, all sides are predicting bitterness and a serious and lengthy fight over rules if the differences are not settled beforehand. "The delegates will see their freedom of choice is hampered by the temporary rules (proposal)," Fleming said, "If Andrew fights that he'll be seen as opposing that freedom."
The controversy has even produced rumors that the convention will not be able to agree on any of the announced candidates and could draft someone else, such as Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb or former Sen. William B. Spong. "That's just one of those inevitable, delicious rumors," said Webb. "There couldn't be a convention without a rumor like that."