Virginia state Sen. John H. Chichester of Fredericksburg was working the floor of the Republican convention here Saturday night, angry over the poor ratings his campaign for lieutenant governor was receiving.
Was he going to prove his critics wrong? "You're darn right I am," Chichester snapped as he went back to shaking hands. A few hours and four lengthy ballots later, Chichester stood on the platform of the Scope arena, accepting the cheers of his supporters and the congratulations of the candidates he had defeated.
It was a sweet moment for the 47-year-old Chichester, an insurance executive and member of a prominent political family in Stafford County who is little known outside his Senate district on Virginia's Northern Neck.
That may be about to change as the state gets its first real look at the man conservative Republicans turned to in their all-out effort to block former state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman's bid for political resurrection. Coleman, a Washington lawyer from McLean, was the party's candidate for governor in 1981. He had hoped to use the lieutenant governor's office as a springboard to another bid for governor in 1989.
Party leaders, among them former governor Mills E. Godwin, saw Chichester's conservative voting record, willingness to be a team player and general good nature as just the right mix to stop Coleman.
Chichester (pronounced Ch-chester), a licensed pilot who flew around the state in his own plane while his opponents often drove, doggedly pursued votes in obscure areas to offset Coleman's urban strength.
But coming from a mostly rural district, Chichester was sniped at repeatedly by some party leaders who said he would have trouble attracting votes in urban areas, particularly on such critical issues as transportation. Party members say Chichester has often sided with rural areas, for example, against state funding for the Metro subway system in Northern Virginia.
Likely to be equally criticized in Northern Virginia is his gambit in 1981 when he effectively killed the Equal Rights Amendment by refusing to vote on the issue in the state Senate. Had he voted against the issue, it would have resulted in a 20-to-20 tie, allowing then-Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the measure.
But in refusing to vote on the measure, Chichester angered some anti-ERA lobbyists by citing a potential conflict-of-interest and personal gain because female members of his family might benefit.
The measure was declared dead for lack of 21 "yes" votes required by state Senate rules.
In this weekend's balloting, Chichester "went for every vote we could get," said Dennis Peterson, his campaign manager. "Most of the local party units are under 50 votes," small forums best suited for Chichester.
Chichester repeatedly refused this weekend to say how he would run against his presumed opponent, Democratic state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond.
Chichester said he planned to complete the coming week's traditional swing around the state with Durrette and then leave for a week's vacation in Nags Head, N.C., before taking on Wilder.
Donald W. Huffman, chairman of the state GOP, said after the convention that the party will hit hard at Wilder's record in the Senate. Huffman said the party will ". . . be able to make a liberal out of him . . . and I think he is[a liberal]."