Virginia Republicans stick with convention as messy fight over nomination method continues

Virginia Republicans stick with convention as messy fight over nomination method continues
(Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia Republicans appear to be sticking with their plans to hold a convention to select their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The decision has not come easily. The party’s central committee has been divided for weeks, leading to procedural deadlock, convoluted parliamentary maneuvers and increasingly heated debate that on Saturday left members exacerbated.

“We have had cursing on this call; the last meeting devolved into people yelling,” said Willie Deutsch, a committee member representing the state’s 1st Congressional District. “There comes a time when we have to come together as a party and stop the vicious incivility and attacks.”

The central committee, which governs the operations of the state party and includes 80 members from around the state, had already decided to hold a convention at a meeting in December.

But the simple majority that won the convention vote didn’t have the 75-percent vote threshold required to change the party’s plan to allow a remote event in which ballots would be collected at polling sites around the state.

That led supporters of a state-run primary to unsuccessfully push the committee to switch nomination methods over the course of two subsequent meetings, which dragged on for hours and included near constant procedural challenges.

On Saturday, the primary supporters lost a key vote for the third meeting in a row, appearing to settle the question even as the committee remains deadlocked on new rules allowing for a remote event.

“I have been directed by a majority of this state central committee to plan for a convention, so I will do that,” Party Chairman Rich Anderson said.

The interests within the two factions are varied.

Sen. Amanda Chase, who’s running a hard-right campaign for governor, threatened to enter the race as an independent unless the party held an open primary, alleging GOP insiders would rig a convention against her. She has since said she’ll run as a Republican regardless of the nomination, but continued to ask her supporters to lobby the state central committee for a primary.

On the flip side, some of Chase’s opponents on the committee pushing for a convention view it as the best way to ensure she loses the nomination to a more mainstream candidate they hope will help the party win back ground in the state’s densely populated suburbs. They argue a divisive candidate like Chase could win a crowded field with just a plurality of the vote in a primary, where in a convention a candidate would need at least 50 percent of the vote to win. (Chase’s only formally declared opponent, former House Speaker Kirk Cox, has taken no public position on the matter.)

But the pro-primary camp also includes people who don’t support Chase’s candidacy. Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, relayed that nearly all members of the Republican caucus in the House and Senate support a primary. Chase is well known for quitting the Senate Republican caucus last year, and members of the caucus have frequently criticized Chase on the Senate floor. Republican Senators joined with Democrats to strip Chase, who praised the mob that stormed the Capitol as “patriots,” of her last committee assignment last week.