Officials of Virginia Republican Stan Parris' campaign for governor released a copy of a letter today, purportedly written by a top aide to his opponent, Wyatt B. Durrette, that suggests Durrette is using conservative Christians to try to win the GOP nomination, but plans to abandoned them in the fall campaign.
Durette's campaign manager, Michael Conlin, called the letter "a total fabrication" tonight and said the disputed letter appeared to be a dirty political trick. "I am willing to say nobody, but nobody, in any way connected to our campaign knew about this letter . . . . "
The authenticity of the letter could prove important to both campaigns, which have made a concerted effort to woo the state's powerful Christian activists who are expected to play an influential role as delegates to the Republican convention in Norfolk May 31.
"Somebody else manufactured that letter," Conlin said.
"What would you expect them to say," said Dick Leggitt, a top aide to Parris, the 8th District congressman from Fairfax, who declined to say how he obtained the letter.
The three-paragraph letter, dated Jan. 29, appears on stationery of J. Smith Ferebee, a retired executive who is head of Durrette's finance committee. It is addressed to Judy Peachee, a top aide of U.S. Sen. Paul Trible (R-Va.) in Richmond and a volunteer strategist for the Durrette campaign who often works with Ferebee on state GOP politics.
"After calling around, the initial fears about working with the preachers has subsided," the typewritten letter states. "I've reassured everyone that we just need them until June, and that they'll have no role in the election or administration."
The letter concludes by saying, "It is important to constantly reassure the coalition [an informal group of Richmond area businessmen who support various campaigns] of this, and to make the break as quickly after [the Republican convention in] Norfolk as possible."
"I know damn well I didn't write that letter," Ferebee said in an interview at Durrette's headquarters today. "If I wrote that I must have been drunk and I haven't had a drink in 20 years." He called the letter, signed "Smith," "a damned good fabrication."
Peachee, a longtime activist in the state GOP and Trible's statewide liaison, denied ever receiving the letter. "This is the first I've seen it," she said.
The letter does not mention Durrette by name. The first paragraph of the "Dear Judy" letter says "Here are three checks for Walt. If possible have Paul give them a call." Walt is an apparent reference to Walter Ford, a key fund-raiser for Durrette.
Leggitt said "this is a regrettable development" and "we believe the letter to be true." He said Parris would have nothing to gain from attempting a fabrication, which could derail his campaign to catch up to Durrette, who is considered the frontrunner.
If the letter is truthful, said the Rev. Carl Bieber, an assistant pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, "it only verifies the inability of the coalition to be honest with the Christian Right, and I think it's unforgivable." Bieber, a group of several activist pastors involved in the Republican Party, said he has been undecided in the Parris-Durrette campaign but expects to endorse Parris.
"It [the letter] sounds like it might produce some concerns," said Glenn Sumrall, a dean of Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg and coordinator of the Durrette campaign in Lynchburg.
He declined further comment until he could learn more about the letter.