ROANOKE, DEC. 1 -- Virginia Republican Party Chairman Donald W. Huffman, who has presided over seven years of poor GOP performance at the poll, called on party activists today to "put aside the incessant infighting, back-room scheming and ugly maliciousness" that have beset the party in recent years.
Despite calls from state legislators and others for his resignation, Huffman drew a standing ovation from the crowd of about 200 party regulars gathered for an annual weekend retreat here, and seems virtually certain to keep his job.
While rumors of plots to oust Huffman have been circulating throughout state GOP circles for weeks, most activists here said they were determined to avoid the sort of bloodlettings over ideology and personalities that have marked the gatherings in recent times.
This year, the activists decided to avoid talking about subjects on which there are deep divisions -- such as the party's position on abortion rights -- and to stick instead to topics that unite them, including denunciations of Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
The Republican State Central Committee approved a resolution calling for legislation that would force the governor to make public his office telephone bills and travel logs for state aircraft.
Wilder's refusal to divulge these records "has raised a serious concern about the ethics and propriety of spending by this administration," the resolution said, adding that "the spirit and letter of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act is being grossly violated by the Democrats who control state government."
Huffman, a Roanoke lawyer, started the yearly retreats -- which the party calls its "annual advance" -- when he took over the chairmanship in 1983.
"I must have been a masochist," he said in a speech today. "It seems that every year they're after the chairman's head" for the latest losses.
One of those after Huffman's head this year is state Del. Harry J. Parrish (R-Manassas), who circulated a letter in November calling on him to resign.
Last year's revelations that the party owed almost $200,000 in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service continue to hurt the party, the legislator said.
"After a year, our party is still in disarray, fund-raising is down, and morale is low," Parrish wrote.
The party's mood was made still more dejected by last month's elections, in which U.S. Rep. Stan Parris's loss to Democratic Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran in the 8th Congressional District made Republicans a minority in the state's congressional delegation for the first time in two decades.
Despite the party's poor election record, many GOP activists feared that trying to get rid of Huffman would merely add to the party's problems.
Scott Gregory, a Richmond activist who thinks Huffman should go, said, "The preference is to keep the status quo. Don is a nice man that people like, and they're not willing to grab him and say for the good of the party, he ought to step down."