After speaking at a soggy campaign event in this oceanside town,
Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia sits in an aide's Ford Explorer
discussing his reelection bid. Suddenly, he grabs the aide by the
shoulder, and points down a nearby sidewalk. "Blue shirt!" he
barks. "Go get that guy in the blue shirt!"
Within seconds, Mr. Warner has bolted from the truck, trotted 40
yards, and confronted the bemused man: a reporter for a small
Virginia newspaper. The man had written a favorable story, Warner
explains later, and he wanted to thank him.
It's not often that a three-term senator jogs after a
journalist, especially in a chilly rainstorm. But this is no
Warner is engaged in a bitter GOP primary contest against James
Miller, a former Reagan budget director. Like congressional races
from Texas to Minnesota, this intraparty feud focuses on social
Warner, who opposes a constitutional amendment to ban abortion
and supports background checks for gun buyers, is generally
considered a member of the GOP's moderate, establishment wing. Mr.
Miller, by contrast, is drawing support from conservative activists
with his tough stands against abortion and gun control.
"This race is a bellwether for how the two factions are stacking
up for control of the Republican Party," says Mark Rozell, a
political scientist at the University of Virginia. "It would
certainly send a strong message about the power of social
conservatives if a three-term incumbent is toppled in his quest for
renomination by a candidate who is running primarily with their
Virginia is a perfect laboratory to study the Republican rift.
In its northern suburbs near Washington and its eastern reaches,
the state is dominated by Warneresque Republicans and conservative
Democrats whose prime concerns are fiscal.
Yet west of I-95, and in cities like Lynchburg and Virginia
Beach, Christian conservatives hold sway. Virginia is home to both
Jerry Falwell, one-time head of the Moral Majority, and Pat
Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition. In the past two
decades, these groups have mobilized in all levels of politics,
installing like-minded officials in hundreds of slots. They count
the current Virginia GOP chairman, Patrick McSweeney, as one of
"They go and fill a meeting hall with people who've never showed
up at a political meeting before," says a top-ranking Virginia
Republican. "They vote for their guy, that person becomes the unit
chairman, and then they vanish. They're very skillful at that.
They're tireless workers."
In Virginia, this growing divide came to a head in 1994 during
Oliver North's controversial Senate race against Democrat Charles