EITHER THE POLITICAL scripts for Virginia's Democratic and Republican conventions got switched in the mail on their way to Virginia Beach, or the two parties are suffering symptoms of acute role reversal: first the Democrats converged on the city for a pat, button-down and mightily-monied love-in that ratified their prepackaged ticket headed by Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb; then came the party of the second part -- acting more like the first usually does -- with a frantic 11-hour floor fight that saw the grand old patricians in a bitter battle against an insurgent minority, and that wound up turning an also-ran third man into the party's nominee for lieutenant governor.
True, given the crazy party games that have become a weird way of political life in Virginia, there is a certain consistent inconsistency to it: you start with Mills E. Godwin, who used to be a Democratic governor of Virginia until he became an independent and then changed into a Republican governor of Virginia. Then there's Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, who used to be too liberal for the likes of Gov. Godwin, but who is now veering to the right alongside Mr. Robb. For lieutenant governor there was Christian fundamentalist whose Republican allegiance was considered both dubious and dangerous by Mr. Godwin and other party leaders, including Gov. John N. Dalton. These preferred another man -- who used to be a Democrat.
But when the fundamentalist couldn't muster enough votes to win, he withdrew, and a thrid man, State Sen. Nathan Miller, who used to be a Republican and still is, stole the show and walked off with the nomination. Wyatt Durrette, who used to be state delegate, is the nominee to succeed Mr. Coleman as attorney general. And Mr. Godwin, it is said, is not at all happy with the state of the party at this juncture.
Now back to Gov. Dalton. It is he who on Friday insisted that he would not repeat the mistake he made at the 1977 convention -- when he pushed hard for the nomination of his choice for lieutenant governor and then lost badly when delegates rebelled against what they felt was leadership bullying. On Saturday, he repeated the mistake and lost again. On Sunday, when it came time for the "unity" breakfast, Mr. Dalton was reported to have "gone fishing." He didn't say for what -- but Mr. Godwin was last seen shopping for a 10-foot pole.