(Note: Most of the knowledge here comes from the great two-volume history of Virginia by Frank B. Atkinson, The Dynamic Dominion and Virginia in the Vanguard)
For students of Virginia history, we know that independent political bids are rather more common than others might realize. We can look as far back as Westmoreland Davis of Loudoun County getting elected governor in the 1910s against the machine of Sen. Thomas Martin. It continued through James H. Price, Frances Pickens Miller, Harry Byrd Jr., Henry Howell, Doug Wilder, Marshall Coleman, Virgil Goode, and Russell Potts. All represent some form of third-party and/or challenge to the status quo. In modern terms, this can be best understood when we understand that Virginia has always been a two-party state, but within that there has always been a cabal of conservative businessman that centered on Richmond who have their roots in the old Harry Byrd machine.
Byrd’s vaunted machine was a genteel tyranny. There were never any George Wallaces or Ross Barnetts in Harry Byrd’s Virginia. His control was so ironclad, so complete, playing the race card never needed. Republicans, blacks, and liberals alike where essentially disenfranchised or otherwise ignored by a restrictive constitution, poll taxes, and literacy tests form the courthouse rings that Byrd controlled. Eventually the 20th century caught up to Harry Byrd and his Dixiecrats. What remained was a loyal, apolitical, and deeply conservative business establishment in Richmond that where now without a party as the Democrats became more and more like the national party; liberal, diverse, and looking for more for government. Their entry in the Republican Party came in 1977 when former Gov. Mills Godwin agreed to switch parties and run as a Republican. Godwin’s first term, from 1965-1969, has widely been praised by historians as helping to usher Virginia from Byrdism to the 20th century. Godwin’s history as a staunch Byrdite who’s support of Massive Resistance lead to leadership in the State Senate and the lieutenant governorship helped give him credibility with the old business estalishment. He was an impeccable Byrdite and would control what Atkinson dubbed “The Organization” for nearly the rest of his life.