Virginia Republican Wyatt B. Durrette today accepted his party's nomination for governor at a raucus convention that, in a surprise move, picked conservative state Sen. John H. Chichester as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Chichester, a little known legislator from Fredericksburg who was backed by party conservatives, upset front-runner J. Marshall Coleman of McLean in a five-way race for the second position. Coleman, the party's 1981 nominee for governor, was attempting to stage a political comeback by accepting the No. 2 position with Durrette, who also went down to defeat in 1981.
But the conservatives and others who formed the ABC faction -- "Anyone but Coleman" -- tonight denied him the chance to face a Democratic ticket headed by state Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles in the fall election.
Coleman's defeat was a victory for former Virginia governor Mills E. Godwin and other former Democrats who blamed Coleman for the party's 1981 losses and feared he would use the lieutenant governor's office to make another run for governor in 1989.
Durrette hailed the selection of Chichester, saying the Republicans would go into the fall elections with "one of the strongest tickets this party has ever fielded." GOP Party Chairman Donald Huffman said, "We've never swept all three state offices and we're going to this year."
Chichester won with 2,072 votes to Coleman's 1,303 on the last ballot. Viguerie, who had 609 delegates, also said he would remain active in state politics.
Coleman told reporters he saw the campaign slipping away when he failed to capture the lead on the first ballot. "Once you're not the leader . . . it's very difficult to show momentum," said a dejected Coleman as his wife, Nikki, stood by his side behind the speaker's podium where Chichester was delivering his acceptance speech.
"I'm aware I was not the first choice of a majority of the delegates coming into this convention," Chichester told the exhausted delegates just before midnight.
Coleman, who will be 43 next week, turned aside questions about whether he would seek public office again. "I have been active in the Republican Party and I intend to remain active in the Republican Party." he said.
Chichester had a slight lead on the first ballot and continued to widen his margin, winning on the fourth ballot.
Conservative fund-raiser Richard A. Viguerie of McLean finished a distant third. Maurice A. Dawkins of Springfield pulled out of the race after the first ballot and state Del. A.R. (Pete) Giesen Jr. of Augusta County dropped out after the third ballot.
Viguerie, making his first bid for a state office, dazzled the crowd with a dramatic red, white and blue light show that drew both praise and complaints from those trying to stumble through the darkened Scope arena here.
Dawkins, a Northern Virginia lobbyist and the only black candidate, electrified the crowd with a rousing denunciation of welfare and liberal policies.
Although the contest for lieutenant governor has sharply divided this convention, Republican officials say they do not expect the acrimony to follow the party into the fall elections. "A few noses will be out of joint when people leave today," said Rep. Stan Parris of Fairfax. "But I don't think it will have a lasting effect."
The contest for lieutenant governor has dominated the convention since it began Saturday. Durrette wrapped up his victory in early May after Parris withdrew.
Durrette, jubilant before the cheering crowds, launched a stinging attack on Baliles, saying he offered only "the same old national Democratic message of more government and more spending."
It was the opening round for Durrette, who lost to Baliles in 1981, in what party officials say will be a costly and hard-fought contest right up to election day, Nov. 5.
Durrette, who was joined on stage by his wife, Cheryn, and their six children, said, "Virginians want and deserve strong, principled leadership, and they're not going to get it from Jerry Baliles."
State Del. W.R. (Buster) O'Brien of Virginia Beach was nominated for attorney general, but not before one-third of the delegates cast ballots for what had been expected to be token opposition from Winston Mathews, a Charles City County lawyer.
Their convention battles over -- more than $2.5 million has been spent by the various GOP candidates just to get to Norfolk -- the Republicans will face a united Democratic ticket headed by Baliles, who is to be nominated formally at his party's convention next weekend.
Neither of his running mates -- state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, who is running for lieutenant governor and state Del. Mary Sue Terry of Patrick County, seeking the attorney general's job -- has Democratic opposition.
The fall campaign promises to be the most expensive Virginia race, with both parties predicting that Baliles and Durrette each may spend $3 million before election day, Nov. 5.
In his 30-minute speech today, Durrette sounded traditional conservative themes and urged minority groups to join the Republican Party and its conservative philosophy.
"If hope is to be held out to the citizens of Virginia who are still struggling to fulfill their dreams, whose lives have not yet given them the opportunity to grab hold of that bottom rung of the ladder of success . . . it will be through the principles of economic freedom and growth . . . low taxes, less government, the engine of free enterprise, working to create that opportunity," he said.
Durrette stressed support for the state's right-to-work law, which prohibits mandatory union membership and is widely regarded as a virtual necessity for any candidate for statewide office -- as well as tuition tax credits and more restrictive abortion laws.
On national issues, Durrette said he would support a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools. Durrette pledged to "If hope is to be held out to the citizens of Virginia who are still struggling to fulfill their dreams . . . it will be through the principles of economic freedom and growth . . . -- Wyatt B. Durrette "keep government small and taxes low" and said that all government programs should be judged on "how they affect the family," a popular theme here that brought rounds of applause.
Durrette sought to include every area of the state in his vision of a Republican return to power, decrying traffic snarls in Northern Virginia as well as the Norfolk area.
On education, Durrette acknowledged that sharply increased funding for elementary and secondary schools is necessary.
Durrette's noontime speech came after a morning of nonstop politicking by the party's candidates for lieutenant governor, who for the second day fanned out across the convention floor in search of votes. Those candidates were working feverishly even while O'Brien was wrapping up his acceptance speech for the attorney general nomination.
O'Brien, a trial attorney, has come under sharp criticism within his party for what many believe has been his lackluster style, a style that was not helped by his exaggerated claims to have played professional football with the Washington Redskins and other teams.
He conceded that he had not meant to imply he was a starting member of the teams and said he had been briefly on their squads early in the season.
He had token opposition for the nomination from Mathews, a little-known attorney from Charles City County who entered the race only a few months ago. Mathews got a surprising third of the convention vote, a sign of disenchantment with O'Brien and the depth of conservative strength from Viguerie supporters who liked Mathews' message.
One speaker who addressed the convention to place Mathews' name in nomination warned that that O'Brien has an "appalling voting record" in the legislature.
O'Brien, who has chafed at the complaints surrounding his campaign, stood on the platform with his family -- including his mother and father -- and pledged that he is "committed to running an impressive, active campaign."