Outside the convention hall, intense looking young men handed out copies of the "Trilateral connection," which contends George Bush tried to sabotage Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign by using CIA agents. Inside, the "Sounds of Liberty," conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell's singing team, sang "God Bless America" while convention delegates leafed through the latest issue of Falwell's "Moral Morjority Report" denouncing Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale as "amoral humanists."
Despite the concerted effort by the GOP's New Right, delegates to last weekend's Virginia Republican Convention voted to stay in the party's conservative mainstream and resisted the urge to move further to the right.
Attempts at forcing ideological purity in the GOP contributed to the undoing of the Goldwater forces in 1964, the last time a staunch conservative captured the Republican nomination and one of the few times in recent presidential elections that a Democrat carried Virginia. Many Democratic strategists are counting on the Reaganites to fall victim to a similar politically suicidal impulse this year.
If so, those strategists ought to draw little comfort from the weekend's GOP convention, which broke up on a spirit of compromise and outward unity. If that same spirti prevails at the National Republican Convention next month in Detroit, Democrats running for office this fall in Virginia could be in big trouble.
Party leaders gave much of the credit for last weekend's smooth sailing to John Alderson, state coordinator for the Reagan campaign. The Reaganites came to the Richmond convention already controlling the 30 locally chosen delegates to the national convention. They were thought to have enough votes to easily name anyone they wanted to the 21 at-large delegate seats chosen last weekend.
Ordinarily, near half the at-large seats are designated by protocol to party leaders such as Gov. John N. Dalton, Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and Sen. John W. Warner. But there was talk among some diehard Reaganites of denying all of these leaders seats because they had resisted boarding the Reagan bandwagon until late March. Dalton even had the temerity to flirt briefly with supporting Gerald Ford when the former president was considering throwing his hat into the ring. (Ford later demurred.)
But with Alderson holding the diehards in check, there was no purge. Instead, after a grueling late-night session in a room on the fifth floor of the John Marshall Hotel here, the Reagan people and party officials emerged early Saturday morning with a compromise at-large slate that included party leaders and even a former Bush organizer. To make room for the mainstreamers, the Reaganites even agreed to exclude some of their own loyalists, including former U.S. William L. Scott, a Fairfax lawyer.
While a few delegates complained that Scott's removal showed a certain ruthlessness, many others argued that the decision showed the party's determaination to look to the future, not the past. It's that particularly nonsentimental quality that has helped Virginia's Republicans squash Democratic opponents in every statewide race for president, governor and U.S. senator since 1966 -- a remarkable record in an Old Dixie state that the Democrats once covered like the dew.
Alederson, who attempted to downplay divisions within the party, said the reasoning behind the final at-large slate was simple. "We just tried to put together a group that would help create a unified effort to defeat Jimmy Carter and elect Ronald Reagan," he said.
Even some of the GOP's most outspoken moderates were impressed.
What I've detected at this convention is an overwhelming desire on the part of the Reagan people to accommodate their fellow Republicans," said State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell of Alexandria.
Not everything was sweetness and light. Mitchell himself spoke against and helped narrowly defeat a controversial resolution demanding that Reagan eliminate from vice presidential consideration anyone who had supported SALT II or the Panama Canal Treat -- a clear swipe at Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker. Friday's keynote speaker, Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.), had demanded that Reagan also exclude anyone who supported giving U. S. aid to the new revolutionary government of Nicaragua -- which would also rule out Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.
Bauman's kind of talk made the modereates uneasy. On of them, John J. Coakley, Bush's former Virginia coordinator, warned that the Reaganites must guard against underestimating either Jimmy Carter or Independent candidate John Anderson.
"There are some Republicans out there who may not vote for Ronald Reagan, especially if he picks someone perceived to be right wing as his running mate," said Coakley.
Coakley said the compromise slate of at-large delegates, approved overwhelmingly by the convention, indicated that "logic prevailed."
"Still," he added, "I can't help but have the feeling that somewhere somebody is plotting to take things over and force anyone who isn't pure enough out the door."