The Republican Party is in its best shape ever in Virginia, and the spirited, high-visibility race for the U.S. Senate nomination now under way may make it even stronger. Last month, George Allen took the oath of office as governor, the first Republican to do so in 12 years. The state's new attorney general is also the first Republican in the job in 12 years. And the 1993 elections produced a record number of Republican state legislators. Democrats have only a five-seat edge in the state House and a four-seat edge in the state Senate.
The 1994 Senate fight is attracting a lot of attention -- in state and out. Oliver North, who needs no introduction, as they say, is running well ahead of James C. Miller, who does, in the contest for the Republican nomination. Mr. Miller is a bland, boring conservative who used to be Ronald Reagan's director of the Office of Management and Budget. He is definitely the "underdog," as a Virginia political scientist put it, but he used to be only "a blip." His progress is related to the fact that Sen. John Warner and many of Mr. Miller's (and Mr. North's) former colleagues in the Reagan administration are very publicly anti-North.
Virginia Republicans have a convention system of nomination, but an open one. Last year, 14,000 delegates cast votes in the gubernatorial race. That many or more could be cast this year. Governor Allen was almost as unknown before the 1993 convention fight as James Miller is now. So a convention nominee can get known in a hurry. A victory over so charismatic and well-known a candidate as Oliver North would make Mr. Miller a formidable challenger to Democratic incumbent Sen. Charles Robb. Though Senator Robb is ahead of either Republican now -- his scandals have not been in the news recently -- that may change. Both Mr. North and Mr. Miller are practicing negative campaigning on each other for the moment.
The last time there was a Republican governor in Virginia, the party's representation in the state legislature was negligible. Because the Republican Party has come so far so fast in recent years, Republicans in other solidly traditional Democratic states can take heart.
Could Republican success cross the Potomac to Maryland? It could, but the base doesn't seem to be here for a repeat of the Virginia experience any time soon. Maryland's current legislature, for example, is heavily Democratic (38-9 in the Senate, 116-25 in the House of Delegates). And while Virginia has voted Republican in six of the last seven presidential elections, including in 1992, Maryland has voted Democratic in four of those, including in 1992. Of course, as Virginia's 1993 elections showed, the unusual and unexpected can happen.