Republican 1st District Rep. Paul S. Trible attempted today to head off opposition from his own party by producing a list of 20 GOP leaders pledged to support his campaign to succeed retiring Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr.(I-Va.)
Trible's move, however, failed to deter efforts by Virginia's establishment Republicans to come up with a candidate of their own -- either Rep. Stan Parris, from Northern Virginia's 8th District, or Fairfax attorney Wyatt B. Durrette.
Durrette, who narrowly lost the race for Virginia attorney general last month remains a favorite of Virginia's conservative coalition. He said today he agreed to reconsider a race for the Senate last weekend after a number of ranking state Republicans urged him to run "for the good of the party."
Parris met again with supporters today and plans to announce his intentions early next week, according to a spokesman. "There is little or no likelihood that Trible will be uncontested for the Republican nomination next year," said a Parris spokesman today.
Durrette, a former Fairfax legislator, said he will announce his intentions before Christmas. "I have made very clear, because of personal difficulties of running this year, it is not my wish to do so, and that I would only do so if I felt it was necessary," Durrette said. He said he will first base his decision on whether he can afford to commit himself to another state-wide race, both financially and personally. Second, he said he will consider whether his candidacy does more to help, rather than hurt the party.
Trible's announcement of an "advisory committee" today stopped short of an outright declaration of candidacy but, as he told a news conference, "My intentions are rather obvious." He said he would announce formally in January.
Trible, a 34-year-old three-term congressman from the Newport News area who has spent a year crisscrossing the state seeking support for a Senate race, was the obvious Republican front-runner two weeks ago when Byrd, 66, announced his decision to retire.
Republicans have divided over Trible's suitability as a GOP candidate, largely because his youth and his ambitions are reminiscent of J. Marshall Coleman, the party's gubernatorial candidate who led the ticket to defeat last month.
"Some people feel he is too ambitious, too young," said J. Smith Ferebee, a key Republican fund-raiser, "They're waiting to see if there's anyone more mature, more desirable. They still feel . . . burnt and they don't want it to happen again."
The search for an alternative to Trible resulted in appeals to Parris and Durrette, who both have strong ties to Gov. John N. Dalton and other establishment Virginia Republicans. Durrette said today that Parris, a novice to state-wide politics, has indicated he would drop out if Durrette seeks the nomination. A Parris spokesman said, however, any such statement was "probably a misunderstanding."
The composition of Trible's advisory committee, to be headed by 2nd District Rep. G. William Whitehurst of Virginia Beach, revealed support in various key geographic regions, but particularly among the party's hard-core Ronald Reagan supporters. Among those committed to Trible are Fairfax County Republican chairman Bill Olson and Arlington GOP chairman Jade West.
However, Trible was unable to produce top-ranking Republicans such as Sen. John W. Warner, other members of the Virginia congressional delegation or any former Republican governors. Some party officials are saying that these GOP leaders are the ones pressuring Durrette to run.
"They're using their influence behind the scenes to shake out as many supporters as they can for Durrette," said one Republican. But the maneuvering for an alternative to Trible has remained anonymous, hidden in the shadows -- typical of Virginia's behind-the-scenes political battles.
"As of now, we have not identified any party leadership as such promoting the Durrette candidacy," said John Alderson, a strong Trible supporter and former chairman of Reagan's state campaign in 1980, "I'm confident that Paul is so far ahead that to try to stop him would cause significant problems."