Virginia Sen. John W. Warner proved yesterday he can throw a successful party even without his famous wife, but the box office was slightly off.
Warner invited Vice President George Bush and Republicans from across Virginia to his 2,100-acre farm in the hunt country near Middleburg for his sixth annual Atoka Country Supper fundraiser. More than 3,000 people came -- about 1,000 fewer than when the draw was Elizabeth Taylor Warner, who separated from her husband last December.
"Given the choice between a political figure and a movie star, a political figure will come in second every time," Virginia House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan Jr. of McLean said yesterday.
The event drew a famous actress nevertheless. Zsa Zsa Gabor showed up with one of Warner's Upperville neighbors.
The $30-a-plate chicken barbecue drew enough faithful Republicans to raise more than $80,000 and finally retire Warner's debt from his 1978 general election campaign. Warner, a millionaire through his former marriage to a member of the Mellon family, has no plans to recover the $500,000 he loaned the campaign before his nomination. An equally large general election debt had been whittled down to $40,000 before yesterday's party.
Half of yesterday's take will go to Warner and the other half will be divided among Northern Virginia GOP congressmen Frank Wolf, Stanford E. Parris and J. Kenneth Robinson. At next year's picnic Warner will raise funds for his 1984 reelection effort, a spokesman said.
The crowd that milled about Warner's stone farmhouse yesterday was laced with local political candidates eager to have their pictures taken with Warner, Bush or the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, Paul S. Trible Jr. About 20 of them lined up alphabetically under the efficient direction of the Virginia Federation of Republican Women to have their pictures taken and watch Bush's helicopter land in a pasture.
"We've campaigned together before and we'll campaign together again," Warner said as he hugged Stephen E. Gordy, candidate for delegate in and around Fairfax City, for the camera. Gordy afterward acknowledged he has never hit the stump with Warner. "Well," he said, "I have supported him."
Warner and former governor John S. Dalton were mobbed by party workers with pocket cameras the moment they stepped off Warner's back porch onto his sloping green law.
"Governor, we've only gone six feet in 20 minutes," Warner said, his tan safari shirt dampening in the hot, hazy afternoon. "You don't know how to politic anymore."
"I know it," Dalton joked. "I still enjoy the kissing, though."
The partygoers also could buy $20 prints of the Atoka farm house or enjoy the spectacle of Warner, state Republican chairman Alfred B. Cramer III and Dalton and his wife, Eddy, trying to clog to blue grass music while Rosemary Trible and Wyatt B. Durrette of Fairfax tooted on toy horns.
Durrette, who ran for attorney general last year, was joined at the fair by the other members of the losing statewide ticket, gubernatorial candidate J. Marshall Coleman and Lieutenant governor candidate Nathan H. Miller.
Miller, who lost to now-lieutenant governor Richard J. Davis, complained that Davis is using unfair tactics in his Senate race against Trible, as Miller said he used against Miller last year.
"He's running a smokescreen campaign," said Miller, who was dogged by conflict of interest charges throughout his campaign. "He just won't get down to really talking about what the issues are."
Bush, in his speech to the partisan crowd, said the Reagan administration's economic policies are working. "The people of this country know we've turned things around," the vice president said. "The Democrats are bankrupt of leadership. They have no new ideas. All they can do is criticize President Reagan."