IT HAS BEEN abundantly evident for some time now that the Grand Old Party in Virginia is not in the pink of condition, what with Democrats in control of almost anything that moves in the state capitol. While the Democratic lieutenant governor and attorney general both work their speaking circuits to sound out the next run for governor, the Republicans are thanking heaven for small victories and feuding and fussing over big troubles. Their biggest trouble right now, to be sure, is the next race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated -- surrendered, some of the more polite Republicans are saying -- by Paul Trible. The retiring junior senator has managed to leave in his wake a wake: the seat has been given up for dead by Republicans.
But that's not the biggest deal in Virginia, where U.S. senators are regarded as necessary emissaries to Washington but nowhere near as almighty as The Governor. It is precisely this difference that has set the Republicans to squawking -- including a bitter bleat from one party member who called Mr. Trible "chicken" for not trying to hold on to the seat.
The cry came from the office of Rep. Stan Parris, who for years has had one eye on the governorship and another on anybody else trying for the job. When some Republican state legislators began an effort to draft Sen. Trible to run for governor, steam began to rise from the office of Mr. Parris. Mark Strand, the congressman's press secretary, was quoted in The Washington Times as charging that Sen. Trible had done "tremendous damage to the GOP" by announcing retirement. "All Paul Trible is trying to do is cover for his shenanigans and his disastrous move that will hand over a Senate seat to the Democrats because he was too chicken to take on Chuck Robb."
Mr. Strand is talking tough chicken, too, asserting that Sen. Trible "is bashing the party . . . brutalizing the party. He's trying to get everybody focused on 1989 because he has left the party in such a shambles for 1988." Meanwhile, still other Republicans listed as supporting a draft of Mr. Trible may not be, after all. One says he's supporting J. Marshall Coleman. And some whose names showed up on a Coleman endorsement list say they never formally authorized the use of their names.
Voters may not care one way or another about all this public quarreling, but to longtime Virginia Republican regulars, the war of words sounds all too Democratic.