by Brandon Jarvis

Virginia will be voting to elect a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General next year and the State Central Committee for the Republican Party of Virginia met on Saturday morning to decide on a nomination process for that 2021 cycle. 

Several candidates have already declared their intentions to receive the GOP nomination, leaving it up to the established party infrastructure to decide on the process for choosing their candidates. The two typical choices are either a convention, which is where Republicans sign up to vote and then typically show up to one location and vote in waves until a candidate receives 50% of the votes; or a primary, which is where the election takes place across the commonwealth at individual polling places. Republicans, or anyone that chooses to participate due to the lack of party registration in Virginia, can show up and cast their vote like a typical election.

Amanda Chase, the first Republican to declare candidacy for Governor has made it clear in recent days that she will not accept a convention. “As many of you know I’ve said I will fully seek the Republican nomination for Governor in a primary only,” said Chase in a statement prior to the meeting on Saturday. “If a political consultant controlled party convention is chosen I will run as an Independent. I made this announcement publicly back in February when I announced my run for Governor.” 

Historically, conventions are more favorable to far-right candidates like Chase. Earlier this year, Bob Good ran to the right of Virginia’s 5th district Congressman Denver Riggleman in a questionable nominating convention. Good was able to defeat the incumbent Congressman and was eventually elected to Congress. “In 2013 a Republican convention chose E. W. Jackson for Lt. Governor and he was way to the right of the party; I believe his candidacy hurt the GOP in the general election,” said Richard Meagher, Associate Professor of Political Science at Randolph-Macon College. 

Meagher notes, however, that the political landscape has shifted in Virginia. “Amanda Chase seems to believe that a convention this year would let party leaders engineer the selection of a more moderate candidate like Kirk Cox. This shift shows how the Republican Party has changed in the age of Trump’s populism – where a decade ago, the Republican core was more conservative than the electorate, now the electorate is more conservative than the core.” 

78 Republicans participated in the meeting on Saturday morning, first electing party officers before deciding on a nomination process. The committee began the process by voting to give each member two minutes to state their position before a debate takes place that could be no longer than 30 minutes.

“It’s an understatement to say that this will be the most contentious matter,” said Rich Anderson, the Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia as a discussion on the nomination process began.

A motion quickly arose in favor of a primary. “This will be a real Republican primary,” said John Cosgrove, noting that Democrats have their own primary. Cosgrove also noted that due to COVID-19, an in-person convention might not be possible and a virtual convention would be very difficult.

However, a substitute motion was quickly made changing the debate from a primary to an unassembled convention.

Michael Ginsberg, the member that motioned in favor of the convention process said he has always has supported primaries, however, he said that he is not in favor of that process for this cycle. “What I am saying now has flown in the face of what I have said before,” said Ginsberg.

He continued to state that he believes a ranked-choice voting method at an unassembled convention will be the only way to pick a candidate to represent all of the voters.

“It has to be a candidate that can command the support of the breadth of the Republican Party,” said Ginsberg. “I see us heading straight for an iceberg as a party.” He said he fears that a primary will result in the Republicans nominating a candidate that only received 30% of the vote due to the potential of several candidates running. Ginsberg said the candidate would then be heading into the general election with 70% of Republicans not originally supporting them. “This has been very hard for me,” he said.

Tara Carroll pushed back against the convention method, saying that a primary would show all Virginians that the Republican Party cares about their opinion.

Steve Troxel followed up by saying that he believes a primary would lead to low turnout and crossover voters, adding that he does not care if the Democrats also have a primary that day because he believes that some Democrats are dishonest.

Russ Wright said he cannot support the primary method due to Democrats having control of the state government. “How do we come back when one party is willing to win by fraud,” asked Wright, advancing voter fraud claims that the Justice Department recently announced they found no evidence. “It just so happens that party controls the electoral process. I don’t know that we can be confident in the results of the primary.”

Prior to voting on the convention, the committee killed a motion from Ben Slone that would have made the votes secret.

The committee eventually voted in 39-35 in favor of the motion from Ginsberg to hold a convention. However, Members of the committee then decided to try and change the wording of the process from “convention” to a “firehouse primary” or “party canvass.” As a result of these multiple motions for change after the initial vote, two committee members who voted in favor of a convention stated that they might want to change their original vote if the language is altered.

Prior to taking up the motion, the committee took a lunch break until 2:05 p.m. After the break and discussion amongst themselves, the motion to delay the finalization of the nominating process was withdrawn. However, a motion to reconsider the original motion from Ginsberg was introduced by Paula Steiner. She said she introduced the motion to reconsider so that members could have a clear idea of what the plan would be moving forward.

Ginsberg said the original motion was for a convention, and that an amendment would be needed in the future to change it to an unassembled convention. “I do want to be clear, I understand the need for a party plan amendment,” said Ginsberg.

The committee voted to kill the motion to reconsider the original vote. However, there are still motions on the table that need to be adopted in order for the convention vote to be finalized.

The committee eventually voted once again for a convention, leaving the logistical details for a later date.

“It’s official,” said Chase in a statement on Saturday after the vote. “While I am a Republican; I will be seeking the nomination in a primary as an Independent. It’s the only way to bypass the political consultants and the Republican establishment elite who slow play the rules or even cheat grassroots candidates.”

“Amanda Chase’s antics have long grown more than tiresome. Her threat to run as an independent is based solely on the fact that she knows principled, conservative Republicans will never tolerate the demagogue she has become,” said Cox in a statement Saturday evening. “She could participate in this nomination contest, but instead she will fade from relevance as loyal Republicans continue to focus on putting our conservative principles to work solving the challenges people face daily in this Commonwealth under weak and misguided Democratic rule.”

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