Virginia Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), responding to new pressures from state Democratic party officials, hinted yesterday that he may challenge Republican Sen. John W. Warner next year if Gov. Charles S. Robb and others can assure him a big enough campaign war chest.
Although Andrews' recent comments have been typically coy, they represent a change from his earlier disavowals of interest in the 1984 race. Last week, state party Chairman Del. Alan A. Diamonstein of Newport News met privately with Andrews at a state legislators' convention in San Antonio and "enthusiastically" encouraged him to enter the race, one party official said. In addition, Robb said yesterday that he intends to meet with Andrews in Richmond next week about a possible candidacy.
"I'll be glad to discuss the matter with the governor," Andrews said yesterday. "I will consider considering running."
The renewed interest in an Andrews candidacy comes as Virginia Democrats are becoming increasingly nervous over Warner's active fund raising and the failure of any strong candidate to emerge to challenge the freshman Republican.
Andrews, a powerful orator and sharp-witted debater in the General Assembly, could have the nomination for the asking, several top Democrats said yesterday.
The problem, they said, is overcoming Andrew's instinctive caution--a factor of both his reputedly large ego and his concerns about raising enough money (an estimated $2 million) for the race.
This would require that Robb and other party leaders actively woo him and make firm fund-raising commitments, one party strategist said.
"Hunter will hold out for as long as he can," the official said. "He's going to want to see an ironclad deal on the money. It money is scary to any Democrat knowing the war chest that Warner is building . . . and Hunter doesn't have a group of financial backers who he can turn to."
Andrews, a lawyer, acknowledged yesterday that money was "the main issue" for him. "Do you want to offer me $2 million as a war chest to campaign?" he asked.
Most Democrats agree that only Robb could make such an offer, yet the governor has been reluctant to do so after being sharply criticized last year for attempting to "anoint" a relatively unknown and conservative state legislator from Virginia Beach, Owen B. Pickett, as the party's Senate candidate against Republican Paul S. Trible.
Even yesterday, as a flurry of Andrews-for-Senate rumors swept through the state AFL-CIO convention in Norfolk, Robb was careful to avoid the impression that he is trying to pick the party's nominee this time.
"He Andrews is not the only one that I'm going to be talking to," Robb told reporters after addressing the convention.
Some party leaders say there is nobody except Andrews who can mount a credible challenge to Warner, assuming that Robb sticks to his own commitment to serve out his term as governor. The only two Democrats who have expressed an active interest in the Senate race are former Del. Edythe Harrison of Norfolk, who was defeated for reelection last year, and former Northern Virginia congressman Joseph L. Fisher, now Robb's secretary of human resources. Both are considered by some party leaders as too liberal for most Virginia voters.
Robb's apparent lack of enthusiasm for a Fisher candidacy may have been underscored recently when his cabinet secretary met with him to discuss his possible candidacy.
Said Robb press secretary George Stoddart: "The governor told him Fisher to do as much preliminary exploring as he wanted on weekends, on his lunch hours, but it should not interfere with his service to the state."