Former Fairfax County legislator Wyatt B. Durrette, dismissing questions about his ability to win a statewide race, today became the second Republican to announce formally for the 1985 race for governor of Virginia.
Durrette, 46, who narrowly lost a 1981 race for state attorney general, made his announcement this morning at Tysons Corner and then launched a two-day flying tour of the state, stressing his conservative credentials and ties to a party anxious to recapture Virginia's highest office from the Democrats.
The other announced Republican candidate is Rep. Stan Parris of Fairfax, who entered the race last week with a campaign chest that already has $301,000 in cash. Former state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman of McLean, the party's 1981 nominee who lost to Democrat incumbent Charles S. Robb, also is actively weighing a bid for governor or lieutenant governor.
Both Parris and Coleman have suggested they are stronger candidates statewide than Durrette, who also suffered a surprising loss to Coleman in 1977 for the party's nomination for attorney general.
Durrette, considered the party's front-runner, has not won a general election since 1975, when he won the last of his three elections to the House of Delegates from northern Fairfax County.
Durrette, now a Richmond lawyer, told reporters here today that his 1981 loss, in which he was defeated by Democrat Gerald L. Baliles by a margin of 51 to 49 percent, was "not a defeat that was a disability to me," but "a recognition of my strength." Durrette said his losing margin was closer than that of Coleman and the party's candidate for lieutenant governor who also lost in a Democratic sweep.
"I think I've been tested," said Durrette, citing his Fairfax victories during "the Watergate years" of 1973 and 1975. He said the party "sees in me the kind of person they want to be governor." Democrat Robb cannot under Virginia law succeed himself.
Questions about the Durrette "electability" issue rose again, after former Republican governor Mills E. Godwin, who has supported Durrette, surprised a GOP audience recently by suggesting that former senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. of Winchester or businessman W. Roy Smith of Petersburg would make good gubernatorial candidates. Godwin's remarks -- and his absence from Durrette's announcements today -- were widely interpreted as a lessening of support.
Asked about Godwin's absence, Durrette said, "You'd have to ask him." Godwin was reported out of the state on business and could not be reached for comment.
Durrette has boasted about the support he expects at the party's May 31 convention in Norfolk. He previously has announced support from Republican Sen. Paul S. Trible, eight of 10 congressional district chairmen, 90 of 127 locally elected chairmen and three of the state's Republican congressmen, including Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Fairfax.
"Wyatt is a winner," Wolf declared at Durrette's Northern Virginia kickoff, which drew about 100 persons to the Tysons Ramada Inn. "We've been hearing a lot about electability . . . . He's extremely electable."
Wolf noted that Durrette carried Northern Virginia in 1981 and formerly lived in the Vienna area. "He will be good for us. Somebody who understands our problems," Wolf said. "Wyatt is one of the most decent, compassionate" persons in politics today.
"Today, we begin a journey we've been preparing for a long time," Durrette said in a speech at Richmond's new Marriott Hotel, where about 350 people gathered for a lavish buffet luncheon. Durrette, traveling with his wife and six children, later traveled to Virginia Beach. His kickoff will take him to Charlottesville, Abingdon and Roanoke on Wednesday.
Durrette has been seeking the nomination for more than a year. He moved to Richmond after his 1981 defeat to practice law and to become better known among businessmen who have been major contributors to statewide campaigns.
Many politicians were surprised this month when Durrette announced he had raised $114,000 and spent all but about $25,000 through October. Coleman reported raising $125,000 with more than $100,000 in cash on hand.
Durrette said today that he had held back on fund raising until after the Nov. 6 elections and that he would announce a new "competitive" fund-raising total later this week.
"This nomination can't be bought," Durrette said in an indirect swipe at Parris, who has vowed to spend more than $600,000 on the nomination fight and is known for his ability to raise money from political action committees.
Durrette largely stayed away from specific issues today, promising to detail his proposals later.
Durrette said in response to reporters' questions that he would oppose the use of any state funds for abortion except to protect the life of the mother.
Durrette also said he has abandoned his support for the Equal Rights Amendment and "meet and confer" legislation that would allow organized state employes to have a say in their working conditions.