Virginia's 1985 gubernatorial elections are two-and-a-half years away, but former legislator Wyatt B. Durrette has already plotted his first move.
In August, the Northern Virginian Republican will give up his home in Fairfax County to take up residence outside Richmond where, he says (and hopes), he will be in a better position to run for governor.
"You've got to have the bug, don't you?" said one local Democrat, musing about what politicians will do to get elected. But Durrette is unapologetic; he has the bug.
After two defeats in a row, he wants to run again for a state office. And for personal and logistical reasons, he figures he can't do it from Northern Virginia.
Durrette's decision to move 100 miles south raises some interesting questions: Does he mean to imply that the Washington suburbs are less than than an integral part of the state? Won't his move reinforce the notion, long held by many who live below the Rappahannock River, that Northern Virginia isn't really Virginia, that its emergence politically and otherwise should be viewed as an aberration that, if ignored, might go away and leave the Old Dominion to creep along as it has for hundreds of years?
Durrette, a down-stater by birth and a Northern Virginian by choice, insists his move is by no means a slight to this region. Nor, if he can help it, will he let his absence undercut his own political base in and around Fairfax County.
He simply points out that Northern Virginia is far away from other parts of the state--geographically, not politically. For instance, it takes two hours to drive from here to Richmond, four to Tidewater, six to Roanoke and more if you're heading toward Virginia's far southwestern corner, which, for those who need a reference point, is farther west than Detroit.
"It was a tough decision," said Durrette, 44, a lawyer and former state delegate. "Northern Virginia is our home and we plan to return here. But logistically, it's easier from there."
As a veteran of statewide campaigns, Durrette knows about logistics. "I've done it before and I know what it takes," he said. "When you live at one end of the state, every trip becomes an overnight trip, and a lot of those nights you spend in Richmond. In fact, about half of what you do as a candidate is in Richmond."
With four of his six children under the age of 12, Durrette has more reasons than some to want to maintain some semblance of family life.
But he concedes he is also driven by political motives. A home in western Chesterfield County will allow him to attend all the Richmond gatherings he wants without having to book a hotel room. It also makes Hampton Roads, the state's largest population center, an easy day trip.
"It simply enables you do more," Durrette said. "As far as we are up here, it is difficult to spend the time doing the things you need to do."
Democrats, who remember how Gov. Charles S. Robb twice ran and won state office from Northern Virginia, dispute Durrette's reasoning. Within his own party, there is the case of J. Marshall Coleman, the unsuccessful GOP nominee for governor in 1981, who has since made the reverse move from Richmond to Northern Virginia and is once again considering a run for governor.
Durrette discounts it, but some Republicans wonder whether he isn't moving to Richmond to cozy up to "Main Street," the influential group of money-men who take it upon themselves in each election to preserve Virginia's conservative heritage.
Actually, Durrette has enjoyed solid support from the Main Street crowd--a.k.a. coalitionists or former Democrats-turned-independent--in both of his attempts at statewide office. In 1977, they backed him for the Republican nomination for state attorney general over Coleman. In 1981, they were behind him again when he ran for the same office against Democrat Gerald L. Baliles of suburban Richmond.
And while it won't hurt him to be within calling distance of the Commonwealth Club and other haunts of the Old Guard, Durrette's fortunes in 1985 will finally depend on events over which he may have little control.
The biggest question mark is former governor John N. Dalton of Richmond, who may still decide to run again. If so, in true gentlemanly Virginian fashion, Durrette will back off, as would all other putative GOP candidates.
"It depends on what Dalton does. If he chooses to run, it the nomination is his for the asking," said Durrette, who added he would then probably look for another place on the ticket.
Either way, Durrette has decided to take the gamble, setting aside questions about the effect of his new address on Northern Virginia supporters.
"In all probability, I won't be running against anyone from here and, secondly, I would hope what I've done here--as a delegate and as a candidate--would count for something," he said.
"But," he added, "sometimes you have to make decisions even when you are uncertain what the consequences will be."