North vs. Miller (and Warner)

June 03, 1994

The advance indications are that Virginia Republicans convening this weekend in Richmond will nominate Oliver L. North to run for the U.S. Senate. His opponent, James C. Miller III, former director of the Office and Management and Budget in the Reagan administration, lacks the celebrated ex-colonel's charisma and money; and he has not campaigned as hard or as long among rank-and-file Republicans.

Anti-North sentiment has been expressed by numerous highly respected conservative Republicans, from Ronald Reagan down. Virginia's Republican Sen. John Warner has led the effort to deny Mr. North his party's nomination. He has even vowed to back a third party conservative if the delegates in Richmond choose the ex-Marine.

Republican delegates to the convention would ignore his wishes at the party's peril. Senator Warner, after all, was the choice of nearly 900,000 Virginia voters four years ago. His views represent his state's -- and his party's -- more than do the views of the majority of the 14,000 delegates.

Those delegates are not expected to be representative of the party as a whole. The so-called religious right is solidly behind Mr. North, who despite his well-known law-breaking and nationally televised lying, has convinced many Virginians that he is the candidate of the old virtues and family values. This groups' organization and strong commitment will make it over-represented at the convention.

Mr. North has proven to be, also, a genius at reminding many citizens of their disgust with political insiders in Washington and liberals in the media. (For him and his most fervent supporters, "liberal" is a broad enough sneer to include even the Reader's Digest.) He has been running against these opponents as much or more than against Mr. Miller and potential opponent, Democratic Sen. Charles Robb. This strategy has also helped draw to him supporters who are much more motivated than the anti-North and pro-Miller forces.

Mr. Miller's credentials -- high-level experience, solid conservatism, the respect of his peers -- equip him to run a better general election campaign than Mr. North could run. Most Republicans, including, we believe, most of those going to Richmond to choose a nominee, know this. Mr. Miller's only hope now seems to be for those delegates to vote with their heads and not their hearts.

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