Virginia Republican Wyatt B. Durrette has captured almost half the delegates needed to win his party's nomination for governor and his campaign aides said today it will be virtually impossible for challenger Rep. Stan Parris of Fairfax to overtake him.
Durrette's campaign, boosted by a sweep of GOP mass meetings Tuesday night in central Virginia, claimed a total of 989 delegates out of 1,996 needed to win the nomination at the party's spring convention in Norfolk.
"We're cautiously optimistic, but I'm not going to claim victory at this point," said Michael Conlin, Durrette's campaign manager. He branded the Northern Virginia congressman's campaign as a "Don Quixote quest into the commonwealth."
While Durrette's aides boasted that their candidate had captured half the votes he needs with only one-third of the convention's delegates selected, Parris aides conceded what they said were expected losses during the so-called "super Tuesday" meetings.
"The bottom line to all this is only 30 percent of the delegates have been chosen and we think Durrette has reached his zenith," said Dick Leggitt, a campaign adviser to Parris. He said the campaign now will shift to "more friendly territory" in Parris' Northern Virginia base and Tidewater.
"Stan is saying: 'We'll give Wyatt his big night, but we'll beat him from now on,' but simple arithmetic disputes that," said Don Harrison, Durrette's press secretary. "That means he will have to win a minimum of 65 to 70 percent of every mass meeting from now on. He can't do it."
The Durrette campaign contended that Parris has collected only 120 delegates to their 989. Another 110 delegates who have been selected are listed as undecided, the Durrette campaign said.
Parris, who jumped into the race last fall in an expensive bid to overtake Durrette, who had campaigned for more than a year, said he has 294 votes to only 865 for Durrette at this point.
Party officials say the actual numbers are unclear because party rules do not require delegates in most cases to declare support for any candidate.
Durrette, a former legislator from Fairfax County who is now a Richmond attorney, showed his strength in Richmond and its suburbs last night, overpowering Parris supporters with a parliamentary manuever that committed all the region's 491 delegates votes to Durrette.
Even Parris' campaign manager, Jeff Gregson, who attended the Henrico County mass meeting as a Parris delegate, was caught up in the Durrette power play and was cast as a Durrette supporter.
And in Northern Virginia's Stafford County, where there were 31 delegate votes at stake, Leggitt, Parris' chief political aide, was barred from participating by Durrette supporters who controlled the meeting and declared Leggitt could not be a delegate because he was not registered to vote there.
Fuming, Leggitt today called his ejection a "storm trooper tactic," and said he was registered in the county and had voted there in November.
A total of 700 delegate votes were decided at 14 meetings around the state last night. The Durrette campaign had dubbed the meetings "Super Tuesday" because last night's meetings represented the single largest bloc of delegates to be chosen on any day during the party's three-month-long selection process.
Parris for weeks played down Tuesday, saying it was blatant "front-loading" by Durrette, who hoped his victories then would create a bandwagon effect for his campaign. Durrette has the support of most of the party regulars, the officials who decide when and how the local meetings will be held.
Conlin, Durrette's campaign manager, disputed claims by Parris that Durrette had peaked and predicted that Durrette would do well even in Parris' home county of Fairfax. A total of 535 delegates will be selected there April 2.
Conlin told reporters today that Durrette expects to get as many as half of those delegates, the largest number from any jurisdiction. "If you believe that I have a deed to the 14th Street bridge I want to sell," scoffed Leggitt.
The Parris-Durrette skirmish over delegates is complicated by the party's crowded campaign for lieutenant governor, in which five candidates are trying to get their own supporters elected as delegates. In addition, there are two candidates seeking the GOP nomination for state attorney general.
The winner of the Durrette-Parris contest will face either Democratic Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis or state Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, who are locked in a battle for their party's gubernatorial nomination.