RICHMOND, SEPT. 21 -- If Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) runs for governor in 1989, he faces the prospect of being denounced as a weasel or, at the least, as totally inconsistent.
That's from his friends in the Republican Party.
Trible surprised politicians in both parties, not to mention the news media, with the announcement over the weekend that he will not seek reelection next year.
At a news conference here today, Trible said that "it takes guts to walk away" but he had found that "life as a U.S. senator is absolutely incompatible with being a father." He and his wife Rosemary have two children. On the other hand, he said, a governor is more in control of his schedule than is a legislator, and his office and residence are next to each other.
That brought out what one Republican described as "the long knives."
"Talking about spending time with family and then trying to launch a gubernatorial campaign less than 72 hours later is the approach a weasel would have to running for office," said Dennis Peterson, executive director of Friends of Marshall Coleman '89, an exploratory campaign committee for the party's 1981 gubernatorial nominee, who is talking about a second attempt.
"People just aren't buying" a Trible gubernatorial campaign, Peterson said. "I've been on the phone all day long, and the reaction ranges from outrage to anger."
"An amazing performance," said M. Boyd Marcus Jr., administrative assistant to Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) after listening to Trible's 35-minute news conference today in which the senator refused to rule out running for governor. "A lot of folks here are not feeling very happy about this and the way it was handled," Marcus added.
Marcus said Bliley, a Richmond congressman who has been mentioned as a possible successor to Trible, will not run if former governor Charles S. Robb is the Democratic nominee.
"It will take someone with a na- tional reputation" to challenge Robb, whose potential candidacy was credited by many with Trible's decision not to seek a second term.
Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.), who along with Coleman has been considered a leading GOP candidate for governor, said that "if Paul means what he says" about being concerned for his family, "it would be totally inconsistent with being governor," a job that Parris said "may be more demanding than the Senate."
Meanwhile, the roll call of possible successors to the Senate seat keeps growing and now includes Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, former White House communications director Patrick J. Buchanan and two GOP presidential hopefuls, retired Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. and television evangelist Marion S. (Pat) Robertson. North lives in Great Falls, Buchanan and Haig in McLean, and Robertson in Virginia Beach.
Anne B. Kincaid, Virginia director of Americans for Robertson, said her boss would not consider it because "Pat is a viable national candidate. But he said just this morning that Ollie North would be a great candidate if he is not indicted" in connection with the Iran-contra investigation.
Trible also faces possible criticism for indecision on what to do with the more than $1.5 million he has raised for his now-canceled 1988 Senate race.
Trible had planned a 1,000-a-person fund-raiser for Wednesday, but a spokesman at the Capitol Hill restaurant La Brasserie said the reservation was canceled today.
A lobbyist for a Washington communications corporation said today that Trible aide Steve Gordon called him Wednesday and asked if his firm's political action committee intended to attend the event.
"I called Trible's office back on Thursday and said okay, but today Gordon called back and said the event has been canceled," the lobbyist said. "The guy sounded very embarrasssed about the whole thing."
The lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, said there would be "a lot of upset people" if Trible decided to keep the Senate contributions for a state race.
At today's news conference, Trible said he was "not sure what can be done" with the more than 7,000 contributions to his reelection fund until he knows "the legal ramifications."
Trible said he is "not a candidate for any office," but he added, "I don't know what the future will hold. I certainly won't eliminate any possibility."
There is "no shortage of candidates" for the Republican nomination for the Senate, Trible said.
"There are many men who could serve well," the senator said, naming Virginians Parris, Bliley, Coleman, Haig, Rep. Herbert H. Bateman (R-Va.), 1985 gubernatorial nominee Wyatt B. Durrette Jr., former Navy secretary John F. Lehman Jr., and Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr.
Staff writer Kent Jenkins Jr. contributed to this report.