Virginia Republicans, reeling from Tuesday's devastating defeats in state elections, called today for a purge of some of their party's leaders and a moderation of the party's conservative philosophy in an effort to recapture the moderate voters the GOP appeared to have lost to the Democrats.
"What was missing from the Republicans was the middle," said former GOP governor Linwood Holton of McLean, one of the moderates who had been pushed aside by party conservatives before Tuesday's elections. "They were using right-wing issues that scared the middle away . . . . They overestimated their own strength in the state. It's not there; it hasn't been there."
Some Republicans said the elections, giving the Democrats their second consecutive sweep of statewide offices after 12 years of GOP domination, could lead to massive shakeups from the state level to county party machinery. In some areas, such as Fairfax County, it could produce a resurgence of the party moderates, who have been shoved aside in recent years by representives of the "New Right" and old-line conservatives who played key roles in the campaigns of the three defeated Republicans.
One of the men being targeted by the moderates is former governor Mills E. Godwin, the Democrat turned Republican, who was a top adviser for Republican gubernatorial nominee Wyatt B. Durrette. "Mills Godwin never really was a Republican and certainly doesn't represent my views," said Warren E. Barry, the clerk of Fairfax Circuit Court and a longtime Republican officeholder in Northern Virginia.
"The Godwin-type voters in Virginia are diminishing in numbers," said state Del. Vincent F. Callahan of Fairfax County, House minority leader. "The party just has to have a more progressive attitude . . . otherwise we will suffer future defeats."
Democrat Gerald L. Baliles and his running mates, L. Douglas Wilder and Mary Sue Terry, won easy victories over a GOP slate led by Durrette, who remained in seclusion today, declining to talk to reporters.
Godwin also declined to discuss the election, but other Republicans were anxious to express their disappointment and to call for a sharp turn in the GOP's direction. "We didn't just lose, we got shellacked," said Fairfax County Supervisor T. Farrell Egge, who did not face election this year.
"It obviously creates a vacuum in the Republican Party," said state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell, a moderate Republican from Alexandria. He predicted that the party's annual leadership meeting scheduled for Dec. 7 in Staunton could be a major showdown between factions.
Mitchell and others noted that while Democrats have nominated more moderate candidates and approved less liberal political platforms in recent years, the state GOP has moved further and further to the right.
"We don't have a nice flaming liberal to run against anymore," said Mitchell. "We have a Democratic ticket that is smack dab in the middle of Virginia political thought."
Throughout the campaign, Durrette, a former Fairfax County legislator, sought to portray Baliles as a "big-spending, big-government" Democrat. But Baliles countered, cloaking himself in the image of the popular Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb, a fiscal conservative and a moderate on social issues.
National Republican leaders, who attempted to distance themselves from the Virginia GOP weeks before Election Day, said they did not view the Democratic sweep as a referendum on President Reagan or the national Republican Party. White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the Democratic wins in Virginia were a tribute to Robb, who, Speakes said, pursues policies "very much like Ronald Reagan."
Many Virginia Republicans, however, said Durrette's campaign only helped the high ratings of the Democrats by its failings and the mismanagement of its $3 million campaign war chest.
"You had a candidate Durrette who never got his campaign focused and never made an impact," said Fairfax County Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, who was a co-chairman of Durrette's Northern Virginia operations. Davis said the GOP telephone bank operation was operated so ineptly that "you'd have been better off flushing it the money . It was ridiculous."
Several party officials said Donald Huffman is considering resigning as state party chairman. And in Fairfax, said Davis, "the momentum is there now" to oust the county party chairman, conservative Ben K. Partin.
"Let's face it," said M. Caldwell Butler, former Republican congressman from Roanoke who like Holton was left on the fringes of this year's GOP campaigns. "It was a monumental loss. We have to do a lot of soul-searching."
Staff writer Sandra Sugawara contributed to this report.