Virginia Beach Democratic Del. Owen B. Pickett, forced out of a 1982 race for the U.S. Senate because he was considered too conservative by black political leaders, today was named chairman of Walter Mondale's presidential campaign in Virginia.
The selection of Pickett and a mostly moderate steering committee was a signal that the former vice president intends to seriously challenge the more conservative Ohio Sen. John Glenn for the state's 78 delegates.
Glenn, who has seen his support in the South slip in recent weeks, won a key endorsement earlier this month from Gov. Charles S. Robb and is still generally considered the most popular and electable Democrat in Virginia, officials said.
But Mondale's forces, with the strong backing of teachers and labor, said today they believe they can out-organize Glenn's forces in urban areas, such as Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads, and in far southwest Virginia.
Pickett, a member of the General Assembly since 1972, had virtually locked up the Democratic Senate nomination in early 1982 until State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), an influential black leader, threatened to run an independent campaign, splitting the party and forcing Pickett to withdraw.
Wilder had objected to Pickett's conservative record and praise of retiring conservative Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. Wilder was unavailable for comment today. But he is considered as leaning toward Mondale and apparently did not object to Pickett's role.
Named to serve with Pickett were Rep. Frederick C. Boucher of southwest Virginia, Richmond City Council member and former mayor Henry Marsh III, businessman Richard S. (Major) Reynolds, Fairfax County Democratic leader Dottie Schick and Mary Margaret Whipple, a member of the Arlington County Board.
Passed over for formal positions in the Mondale campaign were such well-known liberals and Mondale supporters as former lieutenant governor Henry E. Howell of Norfolk and former legislator Ira M. Lechner of Arlington, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress last year against Republican Rep. Frank Wolf.
"With Boucher and Pickett you straddle the state. To the public it will look more moderate," one Democrat said. Some party leaders speculated Pickett's support of Mondale was a move to position himself to run for Congress if longtime incumbent Republican Rep. G. William Whitehurst does not seek reelection. It also was a rebuff to Robb, who was among the party leaders who urged Pickett, a lawyer, not to run for the Senate last year.
The inclusion of Marsh on the Mondale committee, another popular black politician, is a setback for presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, who has yet to establish a state organization in Virginia. A Jackson fund-raiser is being planned for Sunday in Reston, but his campaign staff today it was not aware of any black politicians who have endorsed him in Virginia.
"I think Reverend Jackson has support among blacks," Marsh said. "I think he will raise some issues (but) the idea is to win the presidency. We need someone who can take the job running."
Earlier this year, Wilder and about 125 black officials met with Jackson. But black leaders here, as in other states, have privately criticized Jackson for failing to organize and have warned him that he needs to raise money to run a credible campaign.
None of the other Democratic presidential candidates have done much work in Virginia, several party officials said. South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings was the first to form a campaign committee, signing up former U.S. senator William B. Spong of Williamsburg, but the Hollings group has not been publicly active.
Former state attorney general Andrew P. Miller of Alexandria, who is leading Glenn's efforts, met today with Robb. Miller declined to discuss the meeting.
Many Democratic officials say Virginia's Democratic caucuses March 24 to 26 come too late in the primary and caucus season to have a significant effect on the nomination.