When Virginia Democrats meet in Richmond Jan. 6 to choose a new state party chairman, they are likely to have three clear choices: a moderate, a moderate , and a moderate.
The search for a new chairman by the party's 189 central committee members-to replace state Sen. Joseph Fitzpatrick, who will resign Jan. 5-appears to demonstrate a fresh concern for stronger statewide party leadership.
At a time when the state party is recovering from yet another election defeat-this time, former state attorney general Andrew P. Miller's narrow loss in the U.S. Senate race-the candidates for the job appear to be aiming less at ideology and more at organization as the party's only hope.
"I think Ray and I are both considered moderates," said 7th District chairman Jack Horn of Charlottesville, the other top contender.
"When you put it all together, I come out in the middel," said Portsmouth Mayor Richard J. Davis, the third and least-known candidate who is now said to be emerging as a strong runner.
For that reason, perhaps, a few Democrats seem willing to say who has the upper hand, although Davis himself concedes his lack of statewide recognition might hurt him. "I have the infirmity of not being known," he said.
Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, the party's only statewide office holder and its uncontested leader since Miller's defeat, has declined to back a candidate despite the urging of some party leaders, several Democrats said privately. Tobbhs action has drawn some criticism.
"Chuck has always been super-cautious," one Democrat said. "His whole political game has been a balancing act."
"This was his big chance to name his man, but he's going to end up with some egg on his face instead," said a Democratic legislator. Robb was vacationing in Texas yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
The candidates themselves are emphasizing party unity. "We have simply got to get our party organization and structure working again," said Horn, a Charlottesville contractor who has managed nearly a dozen political campaigns.
Colleys, a former journalist who is now deputy clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Davis, a lawyer and businessman who was a law partner of William Spong, the state's last Democratic U.S. senator, agree.
Fairfax Democratic chairman Emilie Miller, who reportedly was discouraged from running because she is a woman, said simply, "I don't want to create any dissension among the committee up here [in Northern Virginial]. I just haven't actively thought it out."
The candidates have underlined the party unity theme by crisscrossing the spectrum of Virginia Democrat's political views in search of support. Horn, for instance, is considered the most conservative of the "moderate" candidates, but is the only one to have called personally on former lieutenant governor Henry E. Howell, the controversial populist, seeking any support Howell might be able to generate among party liberals.
Colley reportedly is favored by many of Howell's Northern Virginia supporters, but repeatedly reminded a reporte of his roots in southwestern Virginia where he was born and from whcih he is expected to draw strong support.
Davis is said to have sold backing in the relatively liberal Tidewater area as the result of his urban renewal work in Portsmouth, which is more than 50 percent black. But Davis also has earned the support of businessmen-and the anger of enviromentalists - for leading the move to build a controversial oil refinery in his city.
No matter who wins, Virginia Democrats say this is one race that won't tear the party apart. "There's nobody really terrible who stands a chance of getting it," one said.