RICHMOND, Feb. 5-The campaign organization of Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Wyatt B. Durrette said today that Rep. Stan Parris was personally responsible for spreading "a lie and a forgery" about the Durrette campaign.
In one of the sharpest exchanges to date between the two camps, Durrette campaign manager Michael Conlin said he would formally complain to the state Republican Fair Campaign Practices Committee about a letter that Parris' staff released yesterday.
The letter, purportedly written by a top Durrette finance official, suggests that Durrette hopes to use Christian Right activists to win the Republican nomination at a May convention in Norfolk but then will abandon them in the fall campaign.
"The letter is a lie and a forgery," Conlin said today. "It is inexcusable that Stan Parris or anybody running for governor . . . would release such a letter . . . without first having the common decency to pick up the phone and check [its] authenticity." Conlin said that Durrette holds Parris "personally responsible for this travesty."
Dick Leggitt, a top adviser to Parris, said the Northern Virginia congressman "welcomes any suggestion that will help us get to the bottom of this matter." Leggitt said Parris' campaign would use the committee inquiry "to insist that it examine a broad range of questionable activities that have been conducted by the Durrette campaign . . . . "
Both Durrette and Parris have pressed in recent weeks for support from Christian Right activists who have played an increasingly active role in Republican state politics.
J. Smith Ferebee of Richmond, major fund-raiser for the state GOP and Durrette's finance chairman, was supposed to be the author of the disputed letter. It was addressed to Judy Peachee, a top aide to Republican Sen. Paul S. Trible and a key strategist in the Durrette campaign. Both Ferebee and Peachee have denied any knowledge of the letter.
Conlin noted that the disputed letter was typed on a typewriter with a type face different from one normally used by Ferebee. He said that signature "Smith" was almost identical to another letter, suggesting that it may have been photocopied.
Leggitt told reporters that "whether the letter is valid or not, the letter is newsworthy . . . . We are as interested as you are to know the truth of the matter." Leggitt said the letter was left at the Parris headquarters and that the campaign staff believed it to be authentic when they released it.
"If the letter is not authentic, that would be tragic," Leggitt said. "And we would question the motives of who put it under our door. But the question is 'if' the letter is valid."
The brief letter, dated January 29, says:
"Things are pretty much under control. After calling around, the initial fears about working with the preachers has subsided. I've reassured everyone that we just need them until June, and that they'll have no role in the election or administation. It is important to . . . make the break as quickly after Norfolk as possible."