Del. Richard M. Bagley (D-Hampton) has acknowledged that he is seriously considering a bid to become chairman of the state Democratic Party.
At the same time, an independent move by some Democrats to draft the conservative Bagley to run for lieutenant governor this year appears to be faltering.
Bagley, who spent about $300,000 before abandoning his underdog race for governor in December, strongly indicated this weekend that he has shut the door on running for the second spot on the ticket against state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the only announced Democratic candidate.
But Bagley, attending the state party's annual fund-raising dinner, which drew more than 1,400 Democrats to the Marriott Hotel here Saturday night, said he is actively considering the state party post held by Del. Alan A. Diamonstein (D-Newport News.)
Diamonstein's four-year term ends at the party's convention in June, and he has indicated he may not run again, but he may attempt a run for lieutenant governor.
"Some people have approached me," said Bagley of the party post that could give him a boost in his plans to run for governor in 1989. He said he is undecided and joked, "If my wife hears that I want to take on one more nonpaying job . . . . "
Speculation about the lieutenant governor's race and Bagley, the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has been circulating since he left the party governor's race to Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis of Portsmouth and Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, who are locked in a fight for the nomination.
Supporters of Baliles and Davis say that having Bagley as party chairman would help alter the image of a state party that some fear is too liberal for Virginia.
As party chairman, Bagley could keep his legislative job, which gives him significant control over what goes into the state budget. The party chairman's post also would give him a forum to travel around the state and participate in the moderate wing of the national Democratic Party with Gov. Charles S. Robb.
In discussions of the lieutenant governor's race, some party officials, including Robb, have expressed concerns that Wilder, who is black, may be unable to overcome racial prejudices and perceptions that he is too liberal to win the spot against a Republican in November. They have said they see Bagley as a perfect choice.
Bagley has resisted the draft movement for the No. 2 spot, saying privately that he would run if Wilder were not in the contest. He has said that he is concerned about a potentially racially divisive fight with Wilder that could hurt the party and other candidates.
Even if he should win the nomination, Bagley has said, he risks alienating black voters who make up about a third of the Democratic support needed in Nomember.
Despite campaign contributions of only about $50,000, Wilder has moved aggressively to lock up support for the nomination.
This weekend, his supporters joined with Davis forces at the party's State Central Committee meeting to pass a rule that candidates for statewide office this year must declare by March 15.
That deadline is expected to put pressure on Democrats looking for alternative candidates to abandon their search and get behind Wilder at delegate selection caucuses on March 30 and April 1.
Wilder, a respected 15-year veteran of the state Senate, has pressed several law enforcement issues during the current session of the General Assembly in an effort to soften his image as a liberal, a label he rejects.
His newest campaign literature is a 3 1/2-by-8-inch card that highlights his military service as a corporal during the Korean War.
On the front of the card, complete with a full-color portrait, the words read, "From Korea to Richmond. He's still fighting for Virginia." On the back, Wilder's bronze star citation is reproduced, including the description of his battlefield heroism.