A retiring United States Senator might be expected to wield considerable power at his party's state political convention meeting for the sole purpose of picking his successor, but when Virginia Republicans got together last weekend in Richmond, Sen. William L. Scott's last hurrah sounded more like a whisper than a shout.
Scott, whose political career has been viewed as an accident by some and an embarrassment by others, was received, at best, politely by his constituents. He appeared on the podium at the Richmond Coliseum only at the beginning of the nominating procedure, and was accorded a police, brief ovation after being introduced as a "team player, a winner . . . four in a row by wide margins."
While Scott deliberately eschewed the role of kingmaker, declaring at a pre-convention press conference that he would be "glad to support whoever is chosen by the convention - we are quite fortunate in having four good candidates," the delegates made it clear from the first ballot that they were not in a mood to be orchestrated, no matter who was doing the conducting.
Just before the sixth and deciding ballot, Scott broke his pledge of neutrality and attempted to convert votes to Obenshain, telling delegates, "We've got to get this one for Dick."
One 9th District delegate told a Richmond reporter that Scott denounced Warner as "an actor," an apparent reference to the influence of Warner's wife, Elizabeth Taylor, who added an extra dimension of show business to a meeting that often appeared to be life imitating art.
But neither Elizabeth Taylor nor Bill Scott was going to get that huge assemblage to fall in line.
In the end, Obenshain got the nomination, according to his press aide, Bill Hurd, because of the "many friends Dick has made in 18 years of active work with the party, and the fact that his philosophy is in agreement with the majority of the party."
All four candidates apparently were in agreement that the convention delegates would go with a conservative. There was precious little to choose among the rhetoric of Obenshain, Warner, former Gov. Linwood Holton or state Sen. Nathan Miller.
The secret of Scott's success in winning three terms in the House and one in the Senate may be attributed to the fact that, whatever else he may have lacked, the Fairfax lawyer correctly assessed the philosophy of the majority of the voters. As he emphasized at a news conference before the convention opened, "Virginia is a predominantly conservative state," which he said has been shown "time and time again" by the election of conservatives, regardless of party label.
At a caucus of the 10th District, a few hours before the start of the voting, an Arlington delegate asked Warner how his voting record would have differed from Scott's during the past six years.
The mention of Scott brought laughter from several members of the Northern Virginia delegation.
"Senator Scott bowed out with great dignity. His record should pass into history," Warner said. But what about his voting record?
"We wouldn't have been far apart," Warner said.
The closest anyone came to playing the role of kingmaker wa former Gov. Mills E. Godwin, who nominated Obenshain and then spent most of the day standing in front of the podium as a silent reminder of his decision.
The delegates were able to reach a decision only after two of the four candidates withdrew after trailing in the balloting. But neither Holton nor Miller appeared to have attempted to transfer their votes to the remaining candidates. Or if they did, it didn't work.
Miller, for example, maintained most of his strength in the 7th District, which includes his state senate district. But after he released his delegates following the fifth ballot, they split nearly 50-55 between Obenshain and Warner on the final ballot.
As the voting wore on, the convention chairman urged the delegates to make a decision soon so the eventual nominee could take advantage of the media coverage, but Miller's decision to stay through five ballots caused the decision to be delayed beyond 11 p.m. television news and too late for early editions of many of the newspapers, including the New York Times.
Obenshain wound up making his acceptance speech about midnight. When the nominee took the podium, he was flanked by Gov. John Dalton and Attorney General Marshall Coleman.
Scott was out of sight, if not out of mind.
Scott had ended his speech, and for practical purposes his influence at the convention, by telling the delegates, "Inez and I have a small suite at the John Marshall. When you tire of the crowded hospitality rooms of the candidates, you are welcome to drop by for a relaxing visit."
Later that night, as the delegates weaved through the crowded hotel lobby, worming their way from one free drink to another, Scott walked through the lobby with his dog, nearly unnoticed, and took a freight elevator to his room.
"It's sad," remarked one of the few persons who noticed the senator.