Former Virginia governor Charles S. Robb, deflecting suggestions that he is coyly running for president, traveled 60 miles from his home in McLean into the Blue Ridge foothills here this week to do something that would make any would-be presidential contender take notice: He raised $325,000.
That made the black-tie fund-raiser one of the single richest political events in the state's history. The money will finance almost the entire annual budget for the fledgling Democratic Leadership Council, a national group of moderate-to-conservative Democrats headed by Robb.
The 16-month-old DLC, which is playing an increasing role in Democratic Party affairs, has sponsored several trips around the country to showcase Southern and Western officeholders, including Robb, Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.
More than 200 people atttended the fund-raiser, which was held underneath a gleaming white tent and featured a five-course dinner and three bands. Some of the participants were flown to the event by helicopter from Dulles International Airport.
"This crowd is very interested in seeing Chuck Robb being considered for . . . president in 1988," said Del. Alson H. Smith Jr. (D-Winchester), a Robb confidant and fund-raiser who has pledged to raise $1 million within two weeks if Robb will enter the race officially.
Robb, sweating profusely in his tuxedo after several trips around the tent-enclosed dance floor at a private home here, said in an interview that "95 percent of the money came from personal friends" who like the moderate tone of the DLC.
The guests included Washington lawyer and longtime Democratic adviser Robert Strauss, former Metromedia executive John Kluge, representatives of the state's vast coal and real estate interests and businessman and former Virginia utility executive T. Justin Moore.
The DLC has drawn criticism from some elements of the Democratic Party that contend it is too conservative and largely mirrors Republican policies.
Unlike some political organizations formed by other potential presidential contenders, the DLC is incorporated in such a way that its contributors and its spending practices are not subject to federal campaign disclosure laws.
Robb is scheduled to appear at a New York forum on the underclass of America next week. The forum is sponsored by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, also frequently mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. But Robb insisted that he was not using the DLC to stage a quiet campaign for the presidency.
"Whoever seeks the presidency has to have a clear vision for this country," Robb said. "There are others who are clearly prepared and have thought long and hard about the issues that face this country."
Robb, saying "I want to be a player inside the Beltway," said he is only now learning the magnitude of the nation's domestic and foreign policy problems. But he refused to rule out his own race if other potential DLC moderates -- including Nunn and Gephardt -- fail to gain a place on the party's ticket.
"This sends a message across the United States that money can be raised," Smith said. "You've got to have a lot of support from your own area, whether you're running for the city council or for president . . . . That's what its all about."
The Robb event grossed about $400,000 and after expenses the DLC expects to pocket $325,000, officials said.
A fund-raiser in Richmond for statewide GOP candidates in Virginia last year that featured Vice President Bush grossed less than $200,000. President Reagan spoke at an October luncheon in Crystal City for the GOP candidates. Party officials said that event grossed over $500,000.
Gov. Gerald L. Baliles helped set the tone of the Robb event Tuesday night when he handed his predecessor a button from a Washington-based airline. "I'm Presidential Material," it read.