The movement to draft Virginia Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis as the Democratic Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate has been stalled by a chilly reception from the state's influential political fund-raisers.
After emerging last week as the favorite of the party rank and file, Davis is now considering whether to forgo the Senate bid because of the widely shared concern over his ability to raise the $1.5 million he would need for another statewide race, party officials said yesterday.
Davis' top staff aide said that the lieutenant governor is still consulting with party leaders and expects to announce his decision some time next week. "No decision has been made," said aide Robert Watson.
Gov. Charles S. Robb said yesterday he has discussed fund-raising with Davis and other potential nominees. "That certainly has been a major factor" in the deliberations over who should enter the race, Robb said at a Richmond press conference.
With Davis' intentions uncertain, attention has turned to Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews of Hampton and a new dark-horse candidate, state Del. Norman Sisisky of Petersburg, a wealthy beer and soda pop distributor who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Daniel in the 4th District.
Top fund-raisers were saying this week that the Democratic nominee should be able to guarantee being able to raise a minimum of $200,000 toward the fall campaign against U.S. Rep. Paul S. Trible of Newport News, the apparent Republican nominee. " No nominee can sit back with feet propped up on his desk," said Alexandria lawyer-lobbyist William G. Thomas. He said whoever the party picks at its June 4-5 convention in Roanoke should be able to produce a detailed fund-raising plan to satisfy anxious party leaders.
Sisisky, a new name added to a rapidly narrowing field of Democratic hopefuls, has the advantage of his own considerable wealth, noted several party officials. "It is generally accepted that he could add a little to the pot," said Del. Alson Smith of Winchester, a top fund-raiser for Robb last year.
Several top Democrats said privately this week that Davis has had trouble lining up support on Main Street, the downtown Richmond thoroughfare that has become synonymous with the state's conservative business interests.
Typical of this group is McLain O'Farrell Jr., a Richmond investment banker and top fund-raiser for Robb last year. O'Farrell said yesterday that he had told Davis this week that "it would be very tough" for him to raise the money for a Senate race.
The moneymen are saying that a Davis candidacy would be plagued by the fact that he concluded a statewide race for lieutenant governor last year and still faces $86,000 in debts from that race. The Senate race would require that he appeal to the same financial contributors for the second time in less than a year, they noted.
"Suppose you're a contributor and you gave Dick Davis $1,000 last year for lieutenant governor . . . . You're going to say, 'My God, I just paid to get you elected and here you are coming back to me,' " said O'Farrell.
There also is a perception that Davis, an urban Catholic and self-made millionaire, may be too liberal for members of the state's conservative business establishment. Davis antagonized the state's powerful banking lobbying by casting the tie-breaking vote for a ban on credit card fees during the last legislative session. One top Democrat noted that some conservatives are suspicious of Davis because he is popular among liberals and blacks.
The behind-the-scenes intrigue over a potential Davis candidacy comes after the withdrawal two weeks ago of Del. Owen B. Pickett, the anointed favorite of Robb and other party leaders. By taking himself out of the race, Pickett made it possible for state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia's top black officeholder, to call off his threatened independent candidacy for the U.S. Senate that almost certainly would have doomed the Democrats' chances.
Pickett's exit--hailed by party leaders as a courageous move--was supposed to set off an open competition for the party's nomination. But so far, no Democrat has stepped forward to seek the nomination and Robb, stung by earlier criticism for his role in selecting Pickett, has eschewed an active role in picking a new nominee.
"Obviously, there's a leadership vacuum here," said Sen. Edward Holland of Arlington, who had harbored earlier hopes of being the party's candidate. "It's a crazy situation." CAPTION: Picture, 1, Va. State Del. Norman Sisisky, a dark horse but a wealthy one. AP; Pictures 2 and 3, LT. GOV. RICHARD J. DAVIS, MAJORITY LEADER HUNTER B. ANDREWS< Raising $200,000 is the key to grabbing the party's Senate nomination, Democratic moneymen say.