An article in yesterday's edition incorrectly stated that Robert L. Thoburn, a candidate for the Republican nomination in Virginia's 8th Congressional District, supports gun control. Thoburn opposes any charge in laws governing gun ownership. The Post regrets the error.
The first thing the Rev. Robert L. Thoburn, a prim-looking minister and educator, will tell you is that he is not one of those fundamentalist Christian single-issue candidates.
"People try to picture you as more of a fanatic when they hear that," Thoburn said before a television debate recently. "They associate you with emotionalism, and I'm more of an intellectual."
Then, within the space of an hour, Thoburn managed to mention the Bible, his Christian ministry, the conservative Christian school he runs, abortion and the threat he says the Equal Rights Amendment poses to churches.
Thoburn success with appeals like that in the past has been enough to make moderate Republicans in Northern Virginia chew their nails to the quick. At the age 51, Thoburn has proved himsself the darling of Northern Virginia's politically charged Christian fundamentalists and a champion of what his detractors call single-issue politics.
Thoburn's Bible-thumping approach got him elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 1977, where he reigned as that body's most conservative delegate until a narrow election defeat last fall. This year, he's hoping his followers will be strong enough to propel him to an even more lofty pulpit: the Eighth Congressional District seat.
Next Tuesday's Republican primary between Thoburn and former U.S. Rep. Stanford E. Parris is expected to be a close one, pitting Pitts' moderate conservatism against Thoburn's calls for gun control and a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion. With only one race on the ballot June 1, many Republicans fear that Parris supporters may stay home in droves, leaving the "single shooters" to hand the nomination to Thoburn with a small percentage of the votes.
Republican leaders are optimistic that the primary's victor will be able to capitalize on presidential candidate Ronald Reagan's growing strength in the state to defeat liberal 8th District Rep. Herbert Harris, a Democrat, seized Parris' old congressional seat in the post-Watergate election of 1974. s
Thoburn's candidacy "is part of a statewide movement to push the Republican party to the right" says Del. James Dillard (R-Fairfax), a member of Parris' campaign committee. "The one-issue people are becoming more and more involved. It makes you feel fearful for the party."
In an effort to counteract Thoburn's one-issue appeal, Dillard says, the Parris campaign is making extensive use of telephone banks and mailings to try to bring out the mainstream Republican voters who are considered Parris' stronghold.
Throngs of Republican officeholders also are jumping on the Parris bandwagon, offering their support in an effort to boost voter turnout by adding some enthusiasm to what has been a lackluster campaign.
"We're concerned that the usual summer doldrums and lack of interest in a primary election might produce a small voter turnout," says State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria). "And that in turn might jeopardize the nomination of what we feel to be the strongest candidate."
Mitchell's endorsement is among 12 that Parris has received from district Republicans. He also has the backing of 10 Republican congressmen, including House Minority Leader John Rhodes, and two Virginia lawmakers. Thoburn, who isn't claiming the support of any Republican leaders, claims the widespread endorsements for his opponent indicate Parris is "getting desperate."
"You have to ask the question: 'What are they afraid of?' Thoburn says.
An attorney with an Alexandria practice, Parris, 50, began his political career with a stint on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from 1964 to 1967. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1968 and served one term there before winning the 8th Congressional District seat in 1971.
Ousted in the post-Watergate election of 1974, Parris practiced law and ran a Woodbridge Chrysler dealership until he was named secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1978. He opened Virginia's Liaison Office with the federal government in Washington later the same year.
There are those who accuse Parris of underestimating his opposition in the primary and instead focusing his attention on the challenge to Harris in November.
Many of the former congressman's bright orange and brown signs, dotting the landscape in Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, Prince William County and northern Stafford County, say only "Parris -- in the Fall" -- leading some voters to assume that Parris already has won a place on the November ballot.
But Parris says the bulk of his campaign muscle has been put behind efforts to identify likely supporters, convince them that he is more "electable" than Thoburn, and nudge them toward the polls.
"I am confident we're going to prevail in the primary, but I reject suggestions that I have not worked hard in this campaign," Parris says. "The way to win is to identify and get out your vote, and that's what we're doing . . . I'm convinced that the more people who came out, the better my chances will be."
Parris' campaign claim of "electability" in a race against Harris, based on his previous political track record and name recognition, seems to have won considerable credence among both Republicans and Democrats.
Fairfax County Democratic chairman Dottie Schick said recently that Democratic regulars would rather see Harris fact Thoburn than Parris. And Nick Panuzio, a Regan adviser and former chairman of the Fairfax County Republicans says a Thoburn primary victory would be a "disaster" because the rock-ribbed conservative doesn't stand a chance in November.
Undaunted, Thoburn seems to be leaning farther and farther to the right in his appeal to voters. This week's television debate found the diminutive minister addressing viewers in Cold War terms.
"Communism is out to take over the whole world," he said. "We've got to take communism seriously, and we've got to be ready to stand up for our rights."
Thoburn also accused Parris of voting in 1974 against a bill that would have prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion. But Parris, who said he opposes federal funding of abortion in all but the direst of cases, accused Thoburn of misinterpreting the vote.
"He doesn't understand the process," Parris said later. "I don't mean that as a personal criticism. How could he/He's never been there."
Despite fears of low voter turnout, Parris has spent less than half as much as has another Republican in the neighboring Tenth Congressional District. Campaign aides report Parris has spent roughly $21,000 with most of that going toward mail and telephone vote-recruiting efforts. Thoburn expects to spend $30,000 of which has been raised in small contributions of less than $100. The rest is a personal loan from the candidate himself.