Virginia Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis scored a stunning organizational victory in the Democratic campaign for governor today, routing the forces of Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles at a party meeting to set rules for choosing delegates to the state nominating convention in June.
The bruising display of power by Davis was the first public test of both campaign organizations.
"On the rules we got clobbered," Glenn Croshaw, a Baliles supporter, told United Press International.
"That's the way politics is," said Davis organizer Tom King. He dismissed some suggestions that Davis had been heavy-handed in a campaign in which the the two candidates have engaged in several bitter exchanges already.
Davis deployed a platoon of floor managers and even used printed signs to tell members of the Democratic Central Committee how to vote during the meeting. About 120 of the 180 committee members attended as Democrats arrived for the party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fund-raising dinner at the Marriott Hotel here Saturday night.
"Davis did a nice job here today," acknowledged one Baliles supporter who insisted the votes "don't reflect the strong organization work going on in the localities."
In setbacks to Baliles, who did not attend today's session, the Davis forces crushed moves to make 100 locally elected officials automatic delegates to the convention, which will have 3,500 elected delegates.
"I regret this," said state Sen. J. Granger Macfarlane (D-Roanoke), a member of the Central Committee and a Baliles supporter who argued that the party is seen as too liberal and needs to have more locally elected Democrats involved.
The Davis team, some whooping and shouting, stripped the party's steering committee members of their automatic delegate status and took away the power of State Democratic Party Chairman Alan A. Diamonstein of Newport News to appoint temporary committee chairmen. The general thinking is that such party regulars ultimately would support Baliles, the more conservative candidate.
Some party members fear Davis is perceived as too liberal to win in November against a Republican.
In a rare agreement today, both campaigns supported the use of so-called firehouse primaries in Northern Virginia to select convention delegates, a procedure that would allow individuals to vote for a candidate without staying all day at a caucus.
The Davis group blocked a move by Richmond to continue holding a citywide meeting to elect party delegates, a traditional procedure that would have made it easier for Baliles to win delegates in his home town.
The party set March 30 and April 1 for local Democratic organizations to select delegates to the June 7 convention in Richmond. The party set a March 15 deadline for candidates to announce for governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general. To be eligible after that, a candidate would need the support of 25 percent of the delegates.