When Virginia state Sen. John H. Chichester of Fredericksburg talks about why he wants to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, he spends almost as much time talking about what he would not be, as what he would be.
"I will be an attraction . . . not a distraction" to Wyatt B. Durrette, the GOP choice for governor, Chichester pledges. "I will complement, not conflict, with him."
What Chichester, 47, a gregarious insurance salesman and barbershop quartet fan, is saying is that he would not be as controversial nor as outspoken as his chief rival for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, former state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman of McLean.
Coleman, the party's nominee for governor in 1981, is better known, more experienced and is considered the front-runner in their race for lieutenant governor. But Coleman's independent style has made him an anathema to old-line, Main Street Republicans here who saw Chichester as the best candidate to stop Coleman. They and others form what some party regulars call the "ABC" faction: Anybody But Coleman.
Chichester says he is in second place behind Coleman and has had mixed results in rallying support. His most visible support has come from former governor Mills E. Godwin Jr., a leader of the party's conservative wing, and from state legislators and most of the state's Republican congressmen, who in the past have had little influence at state conventions.
"John says he has the Republican establishment behind him, but that hasn't translated into the overwhelming delegate strength he had hoped for," said state Del. A.R. (Pete) Giesen Jr. of Augusta County, who also is seeking the party's nomination for lieutenant governor. Geisen generally is seen in fourth place behind direct mail fund-raiser Richard A. Viguerie of McLean.
The fifth candidate, Maurice Dawkins, a Northern Virginia lobbyist and businessman, is running what he concedes is a symbolic campaign to draw blacks to the GOP.
With the generally mild-mannered and somber Durrette leading the GOP ticket, some party officials increasingly are concerned that the GOP needs a more exciting candidate than Chichester on the ticket.
Ed DeBolt, a veteran GOP consultant from Northern Virginia who is helping direct Durrette's gubernatorial effort, said Chichester is "very, very likable, well-spoken and thoughtful," but he agrees that Chichester offers little to the ticket that Durrette doesn't already have.
Chichester, who dropped out of college to sell insurance with his uncle, represents a mostly rural area that runs from Fredericksburg and Stafford County along the Eastern Shore. He is "too new to urban problems to be conversant in them," DeBolt said. "He doesn't have a regional base so he's working uphill."
Nor has Chichester championed issues, such as the Metro transit system and the Equal Rights Amendment, that have been popular in Northern Virginia, an area viewed as a key battleground in the fall elections.
At a news conference today, Chichester predicted he would win on the third or fourth ballot in Norfolk next weekend. His supporters are saying that backers of Viguerie and Giesen will come to him because they won't support Coleman under any circumstance. Chichester also said he could attract more independents to his campaign and raise more money than Coleman although he said so far he has raised about $200,000 -- a third of Coleman's total.
The outcome of the race is uncertain because few of the more than 6,000 delegates expected to attend the convention are pledged to a specific candidate. The candidates agree the race will hinge on turnout since many delegates may not attend because Durrette clinched his nomination early.
Chichester also has fallen short in his effort to wrap up strong support in the normally Republican suburbs of Richmond where his own supporters say he has about half of the GOP vote.
A Democrat-turned-Republican, Chichester is from a prominent family in Stafford County where his brother is commonwealth's attorney, a job previously held by their father. A grandfather served on the state Supreme Court.
John Chichester has built his appeal by blending quietly into the mostly conservative cast of the Virginia Republican Party and legislature.
He ran as a Democrat for the House in 1969, but lost in the primary. In the following years, he said, he gravitated toward the Republicans and ran for the Senate when longtime Democratic senator Paul W. Manns, a Bowling Green newspaper publisher, died in April of 1978.
"Almost immediately," Chichester said, " Republican Gov. John Dalton could have called a special election. But I asked him not to because I had no name recognition in the Northern Neck." Dalton set the election for that fall and Chichester won.
While he has been endorsed by most Republican members of the General Assembly, Chichester is not seen as a legislative leader among the minority Republicans who hold only eight of 40 seats in the Senate and 34 of 100 seats in the House.
Chichester's campaign literature cites few specific legislative accomplishments in his six years in the Senate, instead highlighting his generally conservative voting record on fiscal issues and social programs, virtually indistinguishable from that of most of his colleagues.
Chichester is credited with shepherding a compromise bill through the legislature that established home school instruction in Virginia, a volatile issue among mostly conservative church groups.
An insurance man, Chichester said he generally stays away from direct involvement in insurance issues and has stopped bidding on local government contracts because of conflict-of-interest laws.
Two years ago, Chichester said he did introduce a bill to aid independent insurers such as himself. The bill, which later became law, allows independent agents to solicit insurance on behalf of a company and then apply for a state license with that company. Previously, an agent had to be licensed first. "It was a lot of hassle," he said.
Chichester said he is fond of the state Senate, where the lieutenant governor presides.
"I'm not enthralled by the aura surrounding the Senate," he said. "I'm the same guy in 1985 that I was in 1975. I think I have been consistent in my work in the General Assembly and philosophically, I think that's important."