Last week, the Winchester Star reported that "3 Former GOP Rivals Promote Party Unity." The three -- Wyatt Durrette, Paul Trible and Marshall Coleman -- all unsuccessful candidates for governor of Virginia, say they've put aside their differences and have asked about 500 party activists to join their new group, Virginia Republicans United.

That's fine. The party ought to be united. It should have been united last year, when L. Douglas Wilder beat Marshall Coleman, and four years earlier, when Gerald Baliles beat Wyatt Durrette.

It's no secret that the Virginia GOP has problems. Chairman Don Huffman presides over a party riddled by liabilities. Many stem from the inevitable political struggles that any state chairman faces, but compounding them are allegations of financial mismanagement plaguing Huffman and his staff. Add the dismal statewide election performance of the Virginia GOP, and you have a real case for change.

No doubt, Huffman could benefit from a united party pushed forward by this new organization. And, having the tacit endorsement of Trible, Durrette and Coleman would no doubt make his troubles easier to bear. But that may not be what Coleman, Trible and Durrette achieve, should their group come together. A new organization established at a time of general frustration and distress within the party might inadvertently provide a platform from which party splits can be formalized and highlighted.

What's troubling is that the three people who have come forward to take advantage of this apparent leadership vacuum are in a position to do little more than the current leadership. Each has made an unsuccessful run at the governorship, and Huffman, as party chairman, presided over both the disastrous campaign of 1985 and that of 1989.

Though it is no doubt beneficial to have former adversaries publicly declare a truce, does it really make sense to look to unsuccessful former candidates, themselves responsible for much of the current difficulty, to lead the party out of its doldrums? To unify behind the same crew that gave us Charles Robb and now L. Douglas Wilder as governors is to reward failure. More important, it has the damaging effect of shutting out potential new leadership before it even emerges.

If we're serious about rebuilding the Virginia GOP, we ought to get on with it. Virginia Republicans need a new party with new leaders. Coleman, Trible and Durrette should put their differences aside, but they should avoid creating a platform that will almost certainly be used by some to drain away needed resources or to fight old wars.

The three men are to be congratulated for taking a positive step toward easing party tensions. But if they allow their names to be used, it should be for the development of independent new leaders, free from the losses of the past and anxious to put fresh ideas and attitudes toward politics into action. As a party, it's time the Virginia GOP moved on.

-- William A. Hazel is a long-time financial supporter of the Virginia Republican Party.