Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb insisted today that he remains committed to the U.S. Senate candidacy of state Del. Owen B. Pickett but failed to respond to questions about whether he might switch his support to another Democrat.
While insisting that "the commitment to Pickett I have made remains unchanged," the governor repeatedly failed to mention the Virginia Beach legislator's name during a 30-minute news conference. The governor also promised a further announcement next week on the internal squabbling over the nomination that has erupted in recent weeks.
"I really don't want to speculate," Robb said. "I'll have more to say next week about the campaign."
Robb's comments heightened speculation that he might be willing to dump Pickett in an effort to resolve a deepening party crisis created by the threatened independent Senate candidacy of state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond.
Pickett had sought to dampen the speculation yesterday by releasing his delegates to the party's June nominating convention in Roanoke June 4 and 5. The action failed to coax Wilder, who has severely criticized Pickett, back into the party fold. As a result, many Democrats have been scrambling to find an alternative to Pickett, although none has yet emerged.
Robb admitted today that a Wilder candidacy could siphon off so many black votes that it would seriously damage the party's chances of capturing the Senate seat of the retiring Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. "The numbers just don't work out," he said. "Clearly, it would put the Democratic nominee at a major disadvantage."
In his own efforts to placate Wilder, Robb met today with the senator for 30 minutes in his capitol office. "I got the impression from talking to him that Pickett might not be the nominee," Wilder said.
Meanwhile, Pickett campaign manager Tim Ridley professed no disappointment in Robb's lukewarm endorsement, suggesting that the governor was merely trying to avoid antagonizing Wilder. "The governor said he's going to stand by his commitment," Ridley said. "Having worked for him once, I take that to be a bold endorsement."