Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew P. Miller launched a campaign yesterday to demonstrate that party conservatives who have supported Republicans and Independent Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., in recent elections are sticking wih him in his race against Republican John W. Warner.
The Miller campaign released a list of 37 Democrats, some of them stalwarts of the old, conservative Democratic organization fashioned by the late governor and senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., who have formed a campaign unit called Virginians for Miller.
Among the best known names in the group so far are three former Byrd organization leaders: former governor Colgate W. Daden, Jr., former U.S. Rep. and state party chairman Watkins M. Abbitt and long-time Virginia Beach political power Sidney S. Kellam, a former Democratic national committeemen and head of the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential campaign in Virginia in 1964.
The organization is headed by John S. Battle Jr., a Richmond lawyer and son of the late John S. Battle Sr., a member of the old Byrd organization who served as governor from 1950 to 1954. The elder Battle turned back the first significant liberal challenge to the Byrd organization by defeating Miller's late father, Francis Pickens Miller, in a bitter Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1949.
The name of the new Miller campaign unit is an obvious imitation of the "Virginians for" organizations of conservative Democrats that have supported Republican presidential candidates in Virginia since 1948 and Republican gubernatorial candidates since 1969.
Those organizations almost always included some of the state's leading conservative Democrats who first were at odds with the liberal tendencies of the national party and later were driven from control of the state party by liberal supporters of former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell.
The announcement of the Miller unit yesterday apparently was an effort to seize the initiative in the bid for conservative establishment endorsements from Warner, who succeeded the late Richard D. Obenshain as GOP Senate nominee on Aug. 12.
Before his death in an Aug. 2 plane crash, Obenshain, in the judgement of many experienced Virginia campaign officials, had stolen a march on Miller by marshalling political and financial support from the conservative establishment that Miller hopes to woo back to his party.
Former Gov. Mills E. Godwin and his close ally, former Petersburg legislator Roy Smith, were leaders of the drive to hold on to conservative independents ad Democrats for Obenshain and pass their support along to Warner.
Judy Peachee, director of the Republican Senate campaign for both Obenshain and Warner, discounted the conservative movement for Miller in an interview.
"This is nothing like the coalition of Republicans, independents and Democrats that we have had in the past and putting together for John Warner," she said.