The Virginia Republican Party, burned by the memory of its crushing defeat four years ago, fashioned a sharply conservative ticket here this weekend that it hopes will return the party to power.
Wyatt B. Durrette, the party's nominee for governor, was euphoric about the ticket's chances this fall, saying it was the strongest ticket that the GOP has fielded in years. Others, including former governor Mills E. Godwin, saw the ticket as giving the GOP solid conservative credentials -- something they said the party lacked in the 1981 elections when Democrats swept Virginia's three statewide offices.
But even as Republicans headed home today, some party members were expressing concerns that the ticket may be too inexperienced, lackluster and, for the first time in years, lacking a tie to the moderate Mountain Valley Republicans who once were the core of the Virginia GOP.
State Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, the Democrat who will face Durrette, seized on that absence today, calling the Mountain Valley Republicans "forgotten" and saying they are welcome in the Democratic Party.
"I was surprised that the ticket included no one from the issue-ori-ented philosophy of Mountain Valley Republicans," Baliles said. "For years they have been a loyal foundation of the party."
Some Republicans, however, were boasting that their ticket's geographical diversity will be a major edge over the Democrats. Durrette has ties to Richmond and Fairfax County; John H. Chichester, the party's surprise nominee for lieutenant governor, comes from Fredericksburg, and state attorney general candidate W.R. (Buster) O'Brien is from populous Virginia Beach.
"Geography-wise, our candidates have allegiances in parts of the state that cover 40 percent of the voters," said J. Kenneth Klinge, a Washington political consultant working for O'Brien.
"We have a natural base, and they have to go out and build one."
Next weekend the Democrats will formally nominate a ticket that will include two candidates with ties to the Richmond area and one from largely rural southern Virginia. Both Baliles and state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, the candidate for lieutenant governor, are from the capital, and state Del. Mary Sue Terry, who will oppose O'Brien, is from Patrick County.
That leaves the Democrats without a candidate who can lay claim to a base in either the Norfolk area or Northern Virginia, the two most populous areas of the state and regions critical for the Democrats.
The success of Durrette and Chichester was a victory for Godwin, the leader of many so-called Byrd Democrats who fled the Democratic Party in the 1970s to join the GOP.
Godwin, the only man to be elected governor of Virginia twice, walked out of the Republican convention four years ago in protest over the party's nominees.
At a "unity breakfast" today, Godwin was center stage and he warmly embraced all three nominees. "I know something of their thinking," said Godwin. "They will bring to this ticket a response from that great army of conservative independents and conservative Democrats . . . who have voted with us in the past . . . and are so vital."
Godwin said the ticket reclaims for the party "the great coalition of Virginians who think like we do," a reference to an influential group of businessmen and financiers from Richmond, many of whom supported Gov. Charles S. Robb over J. Marshall Coleman in 1981.
The GOP ticket revives the political career of the 47-year-old Durrette, who lost a close race for attorney general to Baliles in 1981. But the convention quashed the attempted comeback of the brash and independent Coleman of McLean, who led the party's ticket four years ago and unsuccessfully sought the nomination for lieutenant governor this year.
Instead, the party on the fourth ballot turned to Chichester, a little-known state senator and insurance executive from Fredericksburg and the choice of many conservatives, as Durrette's running mate.
Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail entrepreneur from Northern Virginia who finished a distant third in the race for the No. 2 spot on the ticket, was one of those unimpressed by the ticket. "It might not have the pizazz, the flair, the excitement," he said. "You've got to capture the people's imagination. Face it, the Democrats have an exciting ticket," he told United Press International.
Viguerie, making his first bid for elective state office, was greeted coolly by old-line party members, but his campaign appeared to demonstrate strong support from Christian fundamentalists who have played an active but sporadic role in party politics. Unlike backers of the other losing candidates, most of Viguerie's supporters stayed with him until the finish. That, Viguerie said, showed that the Christian activists will become a permanent and a growing force within the GOP.
In an effort to cultivate their base in Northern Virginia, which is considered a key battleground in the fall elections, the Republicans will begin a week-long series of appearances Monday with campaign stops at Metro stations and a news conference in Fairfax.
The joy of conservatives was tempered by concerns over the depth of Chichester's experience and the campaign ability of O'Brien.
Chichester, who benefited from the strong anti-Coleman sentiment, is making his first statewide race. Politicians say he is not known as a legislative leader in the Senate, where he has served for eight years, representing a largely rural district that stretches from the Fredericksburg area along the Northern Neck.
After an unexpectedly strong showing on the first ballot Saturday, Chichester walked away with a majority of the delegates in voting that ended shortly before midnight. The spirited battle for the No. 2 spot on the ticket dominated the convention as the supporters of all five candidates for lieutenant governor led the delegates in noisy, placard-waving demonstrations. Edged out in early balloting were state Del. A.R. (Pete) Giesen Jr. of Augusta County and lobbyist Maurice A. Dawkins of Springfield, who led a symbolic effort to attract blacks to the GOP.
O'Brien, who was embarrassed when his token opponent got nearly one-third of the vote at the convention, has been widely criticized within his party as having a low-key campaign style and spotty legislative record. So far, O'Brien's main campaign tactic appears to have been introducing his wife and family, an indirect way of pointing out that his opponent, Terry, is an unmarried woman.