RICHMOND -- Bits and orts from Virginia's capital, including a Bird with no wings, a black-tie bash for Gov. Gerald L. Baliles and some purely partisan preaching:
State Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence H. Framme III wasn't kidding the other night when he introduced state Sen. Daniel W. Bird Jr. to a crowd of 1,200 as "the man with recent, extraordinary news."
Most Democrats around the state did not know whether to laugh or cry one day earlier when Bird, who describes his service on a transportation commission as his greatest accomplishment in 12 years in the Senate, announced he was running for governor.
Party leaders are edgy enough about their prospects in the 1989 governor's race without Bird, a Wytheville Democrat, bursting on the scene as a barely credible candidate. Yet few in the Democratic establishment -- politicians, party fund-raisers and hangers-on -- would say publicly what they told reporters privately: Almost nobody is taking seriously the plans of this southwest Virginian.
State Sen. Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-McLean) had the frankest assessment of his colleague's intentions: He simply guffawed when a reporter informed him of Bird's impending announcement. Duval and the rest of the Northern Virginia delegation know all too well that Bird has burned bridges to the region over the years on such issues as funding for the Metro transit system. DuVal's laugh spoke volumes about how the Washington suburbs, an area crucial to any statewide election strategy, will receive candidate Bird.
Others, though, seem to like the idea of Bird running. On Saturday night, as he was passing out "Danny Bird: The Democratic Way" lapel pins at the largest party fund-raiser of the year, two women approached Bird and said he would have their support.
"I think it's a good idea, and I'll work for you," said one of the women from suburban Richmond.
Bird seemed delighted, if also a bit nervous about by the crowd's reaction. "I feel like an expectant father," he said.
Bird was one of several would-be governors and hundreds of Democrats who turned out for a party here last week honoring Baliles, who recently rounded the halfway mark of his four-year term. The occasion was the party's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, the annual fund-raiser that this year sent more than $100,000 into the Democratic treasury.
J-J, as the dinner is called around these parts, is an intensely political event, a time when party regulars gather to eat, imbibe and, most important, to feel good about being Democrats. Presidential hopeful Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee told those in the dinner audience they were there to celebrate a "political miracle" and the "miracle is simply this: You have brought the Democratic Party back home."
Miracles abhor politics, as Gore may learn this year, but the Democrats' good feelings over dinner were so strong that even such political rivals as state Attorney General Mary Sue Terry and Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder rose to the occasion with good humor.
"Party unity may be at an all-time high," Terry said, getting laughs from the crowd when she added, "In fact, Doug and I were talking the other day over our chitlins at the Commonwealth Club," an exclusive private bastion of Richmond's white male establishment.
Terry, who like Wilder is a leading Democratic contender for governor next year, tweaked the lieutenant governor a bit more, saying he had counseled her: "If a person aspires to the highest place, it's no dishonor to halt at second, or even at the third" place.
"And you know, I agreed with him almost to the very end," she added. "That's unity for you."
Wilder, who has not been shy about straying from the administration line, was just as lighthearted in his address, saying with mock sheepishness, "I have occasion, sometimes, to say things and do things that are not necessarily perceived to be consonant with the theme."
While cracking his share of jokes, Baliles also preached to the party faithful a sermon more partisan than he normally does in other arenas. First he needled J. Marshall Coleman, a Republican who is running for governor, then urged the Democrats to consolidate their gains of recent years.
"Let them know which party has a candidate for this year's U.S. Senate seat -- and let them know which party hasn't a prayer," Baliles said. "Let the other party rattle on against everything. Let the other party be the party of negativism and nullification."
Baliles in recent weeks has been bolder with such attacks, but so have the Republicans, who last week issued a stinging critique of the governor's $22.5 billion budget. That document was the first such budget analysis issued by Republican legislators in years, and holds the promise of even more partisan bickering before the General Assembly adjourns.
By then, Democrats and Republicans alike will have proven whether their talk of party unity is more than that.