Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidates Stan Parris and Wyatt B. Durrette moved tonight to cool off a week-long controversy over a disputed letter attributed to the Durrette campaign.
After a day of negotiations between the two campaigns, Parris told a group of reporters tonight that he does not believe the letter attributed to Durrette fund-raiser J. Smith Ferebee is genuine. Parris's staff released a copy of the letter on Monday.
"If Ferebee says he did not sign the letter, I accept his word," Parris said. "I have personally made no reference to the letter . . . . As far as I am concerned, the matter of the letter is closed." Parris, who stopped short of apologizing for the incident, said he has instructed his staff not to discuss it any further.
The bogus letter, which Ferebee called a "damn good imitation," said the Durrette campaign was enlisting the support of politically conservative Christians in an attempt to win the GOP nomination but suggested that Durrette would abandon that support in the fall campaign against the Democrats.
Durrette, appearing at the same dinner with reporters last night, said he would reconsider his campaign's plans to file a formal complaint against Parris with the state party over release of the letter.
"It all could have been avoided if you had placed a phone call to Mr. Ferebee," said Durrette, still annoyed over the incident. Durrette's aides said later that they may still ask the state GOP's Fair Campaign Practices Committee to try to determine who wrote the letter.
Durrette and Parris spoke at a dinner of the Virginia Capital Correspondents Association, which also drew two Democratic candidates for governor, Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles and Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis.
The gathering was the only occasion on which the two sets of candidates are expected to appear together before their separate summer nominating conventions.
While the bogus letter controversy dominated the evening, Davis agreed to Baliles' invitation to hold several debates before the Democrats' June 7 convention in Richmond.
In a state that has one of the lowest proportions of eligible voters registered -- about 62 percent -- both Democrats said they support moves to increase registration, while the Republicans said they saw no unfair barriers to registration.
All of the candidates steered clear of supporting any tax increases, but none ruled out the chance they may have to ask for more revenue if federal budget cuts or the economy cut into state government programs.
On another money matter, all four candidates said they would expect to spend well over $3 million on a general election campaign.
Parris said he expects his nomination battle before the May 31 GOP convention in Norfolk to cost as much as $1 million and said he agreed with former Republican governor John N. Dalton that a general election race this year could top $4 million per candidate.
Durrette, whose campaign has attracted wide party support but is short of money, said, "I don't have to spend that much."