He married America's Junior Miss and named his dog Honor--as in, he says, "Duty, Honor and Country."
He dresses in the morning to the soundtrack of his favorite movie, "Chariots of Fire," and wears a pair of presidential cufflinks given to him when he worked at the Nixon White House. He tells voters: "I have always dreamed of serving the people of Virginia."
Paul Seward Trible Jr., the Virginia Republican Party's 35-year-old senatorial candidate, is a man some find unreal -- a fresh-faced, three-term congressman whose sandy-haired good looks and earnest intensity could form the prototype for the modern video politician.
As he stumps the state, Trible's speeches are laced with conservative slogans and patriotic homilies tailor-made for the constituency of the man he wants to replace, independent Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. "I am ambitious," he says, pausing dramatically. "I'm ambitious for America."
White House aide at 26, county prosecutor at 27, congressman at 30--Trible is a driven man who has carefully planned each step of his political ascendancy. And despite his frequent protestations, he remains plagued by a public perception that his success has come through calculation and opportunism. "Blind ambition," is what Trible's opponent, Democrat Richard J. Davis, calls it.
Even Trible's friends concede the problem. "I think he gives the impression of being a cold fish, but I don't think he is one," says Rep. M. Caldwell Butler (R-Va.). "He leaves the impression that he is worried about the political implications of things rather than the moral implications of what he's done--although I don't think that's an accurate impression for people to have."
The impression that Trible has sought to convey is that of a successful, hard-working, conservative congressman who has fought hard for the people of his Newport News and Eastern Virginia district, helping steer millions of dollars in federal defense funds their way.
From the outset, he has shown a skill for distinguishing himself from the pack. The only new Republican representative elected from the South in 1976, he maneuvered himself onto the House Armed Services Committee and won big headlines in hometown and national newspapers when he took on the Carter administration for shifting the $525 million overhaul of the Saratoga aircraft carrier from Virginia to Philadelphia.
A candidate supported by the National Conservative Political Action Committee and other conservative groups, Trible managed to maintain ties to labor unions and blacks and win lopsided reelection victories in a predominantly Democratic district.
Today he campaigns as a Ronald Reagan Republican, lambasting the "bankrupt tax-and-tax, spend-and-spend Democratic policies of the past." He laments the recession and unemployment, and, like Reagan, tells voters the only way to achieve economic recovery is to "stay the course."
At first glance, Trible's campaign had all the traditional ingredients of a Republican victory in conservative Virginia. Blessed by a nine-month organizational head start and fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from business and defense-oriented political action committees, Trible is expected to outspend Davis by at least two to one.
Former Gov. Mills E. Godwin and Petersburg businessman W. Roy Smith, the two deans of Virginia's conservative old guard, hail Trible as their own. Television preacher Jerry Falwell, head of the Lynchburg-based Moral Majority, embraces his candidacy. Reagan helicoptered to Richmond, telling voters that Trible was Byrd's philosophical heir--though Byrd himself maintains his silence.
A recent NBC-Associated Press poll found the race virtually a dead heat.
A quiet and thoughtful man in private, Trible is, his campaign staff grumbles, often too intense and humorless on the stump. They fret over a stagey speaking style that one aide jokingly calls "robotized."
It is a problem that has hampered Trible throughout his meteoric rise. "He gave the same speech everywhere we went," remembers Robert Quinn, a former state legislator from Hampton who was Trible's first congressional opponent. "And the gestures--raising his hands, turning his head -- it was very mechanical. It was sort of like someone had plugged him in . . . I never felt like I was getting to the real Paul Trible. I don't know what kind of person he is."
"I think that has been a fair criticism," says Trible. "I have been not as relaxed as I ought to be--as I am in real life."
"I've just tried to slow down a bit and take time to enjoy the experience more and spend more time with people," he says. "It's the pressure of this job and wanting to succeed and get as much done as I can in a small period of time."
When Paul Trible was a senior in Clarks Summit High School, near Scranton, Pa., he wanted to be student body president. He lost and was elected vice president instead. It was, Trible says, the closest thing to a political setback he has ever suffered. As he puts it, "I haven't had any wrenching disappointments."
Indeed, Trible seems to have led a charmed life. The only child of an affluent salt company executive, Trible summered at his family's ancestral farmhouse on Virginia's Chesapeake Bay.
His college years were spent at Virginia's Hampden-Sydney College, a small, exclusive, all-male school in which chapel attendance was mandatory and coats and ties were the norm. "It was the country club of the South," says Randy Savage, a Virginia Beach dentist who was a college friend and fraternity brother.
Across the country, campuses were ablaze with protests over Vietnam. At Hampden-Sydney, there was scarcely a whisper. "Everyone at Hampden-Sydney was a conservative Republican and Vietnam really wasn't an issue," Trible says.
The draft, however, was. And in 1968, while many of his friends were being shipped off to southeast Asia, Trible flunked his preinduction physical because of a slight malformation in his right arm, and received a medical deferment. It is a touchy subject in a state where the Defense Department is the biggest employer and military service is among the major virtues. Trible won't talk about whether he was relieved when he received the deferment. "I was happy to go to law school," he says.
He moved on to Washington and Lee University Law School, where he met Rosemary Dunaway, a Sweet Briar College student who was to become his wife. Rosemary, a vivacious brunette who had won the America's Junior Miss title in 1967 for her academic achievement and a dramatic reading, was later to become a Richmond TV talk show host and one of Trible's most tireless campaigners.
After graduation, Trible worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. in Alexandria. More than a year as a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney's office in Alexandria followed, in which Trible fondly recalls nailing a gang of bank robbers.
Then, in the summer of 1973, while a beleaguered president Nixon was fending off subpoenas for the White House tapes, Trible was detailed to assist in the president's defense -- a heady experience filled with rides in black limousines and lunches at the White House mess. He stayed three months, quitting after Nixon at first declined to take the executive privilege defense Trible had helped prepare to the Supreme Court.
"He tried to end run the judicial process and I said I'm leaving," Trible says.
A colleague at the time recalls it somewhat differently. "Paul left because he just thought it was a sinking ship," says a lawyer who worked with him. "The rest of the office was a little bit dismayed and even disgusted."
As a young lawyer, Trible's friends recall, he "never made any secret of his political ambition." His first opportunity came in 1974, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy as Commonwealth's attorney in rural Essex County on the Rappahannock River and won reelection in a landslide.
Within a few months, the young lawyer had set his sights on a new goal, throwing himself into a seemingly unwinnable congressional race after the district's long-time Democratic incumbent, Thomas N. Downing, announced his retirement. A Republican running in a staunchly Democratic district, a little-known county prosecutor in a largely urban district, Trible pursued his campaign with a relentless determination. In the weeks before the convention he and his wife criss-crossed the district many times, visiting all the GOP convention delegates they could find.
With the help of those delegates, Trible first wrested the nomination from an entrenched and well-financed Democrat-turned-Republican, state Sen. Herbert H. Bateman of Newport News. Then, as the summer wore on, there was another stroke of good fortune. Trible was able to take advantage of a deep rift in the district's sizable black electorate, the product of a bitter primary fight some time earlier. By openly courting black leaders and naming a young black woman as his "deputy campaign manager," Trible was able to bring black voters into a coalition of GOP businessmen, shipyard workers and working-class whites.
"It was the key to the election," says Robert Weed, Trible's campaign manager that year. Trible narrowly defeated his opponent while Jimmy Carter carried the district for the Democrats.
Black voters have played a pivotal role in Virginia elections in recent years, and Trible has avidly courted their support. As a young congressman, he created a one-year scholarship fund at a black college with part of a congressional salary increase, and he was the only Virginia Republican to support a holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King. He promised, in his first congressional campaign, to support the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment.
Trible's alliance with black voters seems, however, to have frayed. In 1981, he voted to support an antibusing measure and also joined the majority of Virginia congressmen opposing the extension of the federal Voting Rights Act.
In his first debate with Davis, Trible recanted his support for the D.C. amendment. "I'm unalterably opposed to having two senators for the District of Columbia," said Trible, without telling the audience that he had voted for the amendment in 1978. Later, under questioning by reporters, Trible said that he had voted for the measure because he believes that the District should have a voting member of the House but no senators.
Once Trible arrived in the Congress, his aides formed what they only half-jokingly called "Paul Trible Inc." -- a fictitious firm aimed at promoting its only product. "It was analogous to any corporation," says one former aide. "You figure out you need a strategy to market your product, or achieve your objectives."
It was from his Armed Services Committee post that Trible was able to lobby the Navy into revamping its home port policies, arguing that ships based in the Tidewater should be repaired there. The maneuver promises to bring millions of dollars to Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. and other Tidewater shipbuilders. The political action committee of Newport News Shipbuilding's parent company, Tenneco Inc., has contributed the maximum $5,000 allowable to Trible's campaign.
In 1981, Trible also was granted a place on the influential House Budget Committee, an assignment that was due at least in part to his early support of Reagan (he backed Reagan's candidacy in 1979, becoming the first major GOP politician in Virginia to do so) and to the support he gave Rep. Robert Michel (R-Ill.) in Michel's successful quest for the House minority leader's job. Once on that committee, Trible quickly established himself as a staunch proponent of the president's tax and budget programs.
Before he had even completed his first term, Trible directed his staff to draw up a plan for seizing the 1978 Republican U.S. Senate nomination in the event of a convention deadlock. That plan was scrubbed when several Trible backers fell in behind Richard Obenshain, the eventual party nominee who was killed in an airplane crash shortly after his nomination.
In the House, Trible earned a reputation on the Hill as a man who drives himself -- and others. "He's intense," says Gus Edwards, Trible's administrative assistant. "He takes himself seriously. He takes his work seriously."
That intensity has caused frequent staff turnovers in Trible's office. He has had four press assistants in the past six years and is now operating without one. "Paul didn't recognize the importance of telling the people around you that you need them as much as they need you," said one former staff member.
Paul Trible is a man who has always grabbed at opportunities that others do not even see, and Virginia Democrats argue that he is a opportunist unlikely to carry on in the state's sober, genteel tradition.
Trible demurs. "I was raised with a very strong sense of Virginia history," he says. "I have been raised in the shadow of men like Washington, Lee and Jefferson . . . As I grew up I was surely conscious of my Virginia heritage and a sense of public responsibility. That is an important part of the Virginia tradition."