The Virginia Republican Party, once one of the most smoothly operating and effective political organizations in the country, is being wracked by internecine warfare triggered by charges that the state chairman, Dr. Alfred Cramer, has mismanaged the party's affairs.
Faced with a $50,000 debt and the resignation of four of the party's nine full-time staff members, some GOP leaders have launched a movement to oust Cramer, a member of the party's conservative wing, and Edward Stikes, the party's executive director.
A closed-door meeting of the party's executive committee has been called without Cramer's approval for today in Richmond.
The anti-Cramer movement apparently was slowed yesterday after it became clear at a meeting of the state's GOP members of Congress called by Sen. John W. Warner that there would not be enough votes to dump Cramer. Party sources also said the effort was hurt by an absence of active candidates for the job.
Criticism of Cramer, however, did not abate. "Cramer and Eddie Stikes have mismanaged the party for some time," said Robert Weed, a political adviser to GOP Sen. Paul S. Trible and Cramer's most vocal critic. "I've been in this party for 23 years and I'm real mad about where we've come to."
Cramer, a Culpeper physician, and Stikes did not respond to telephone calls yesterday. Other party officials said the public bloodletting has already damaged the party far more than Cramer's leadership. "I wouldn't say that Mr. Cramer is the world's best chairman," said Robert Cunningham, the party chairman in Northern Virginia's 8th Congressional District. "He's not the world's worst chairman. He certainly hasn't done anything that justifies being dumped."
The squabbling stems largely from the party's failure to sustain its formidable track record of the 1970s when it dominated statewide elections and emerged as one of the most powerful state political organizations in the country.
After the 1980 elections, in which Virginia voted overwhelmingly for President Reagan, Republicans occupied the three top statewide offices, one U.S. Senate seat and 9 out of 10 House seats.
The Democratic sweep of Gov. Charles S. Robb in 1981 damaged GOP morale. Despite Trible's narrow victory last fall over Democratic Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis, Republicans lost three House seats and failed to make substantial gains in state legislative races.
The upshot is that the party's direct-mail fund-raising, once the cornerstone of its success, has tapered off badly. "When you lose one election and you surely don't come back the next year, people start to keep their hands on the wallets," Cunningham said.
The gravity of its financial woes was apparent by the end of 1982 when the party, which has an annual budget of about $300,000, showed a debt of $80,000. The debt was reduced after the party took out a $45,000 loan, but some party officials said the financial picture was expected to worsen. On May 1, Cramer imposed a 10 percent cut in staff salaries, an action that in part triggered the resignations.
Equally serious, party sources said, has been a perception that the party's precinct organizations and its candidate recruitment efforts for local races have been ignored. "Our precinct organization is falling apart," said one Republican who has been active in statewide campaigns. "Nobody's even doing candidate recruitment."
The party's predicament has apparently been of most concern to Warner, who faces reelection next year and is reported by some close to the situation to be furious at Cramer's "lack of leadership."
But, confronted with concern over the public airing of GOP differences, Warner and the other Republican members of Congress apparently agreed yesterday to tone down their criticisms. A Warner spokesman said the senator did not wish to comment on Cramer. Both Warner and Trible plan to attend the executive committee meeting today in Richmond. "The overwhelming concern is the financial situation," the spokesman said.