Virginia GOP to select gubernatorial nominee at convention in Liberty University parking lots

Virginia GOP to select gubernatorial nominee at convention in Liberty University parking lots
An empty parking lot. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

After rejecting proposals to hold a state-run primary, a party-run canvass and an unassembled convention to choose their nominees for statewide office, Virginia Republicans settled Tuesday evening on a plan to hold a traditional convention in an untraditional location: parking lots scattered around Liberty University in Lynchburg.

“Liberty University has over 25,000 parking spots they’re willing to let us utilize for a one-location, drive-in convention,” explained GOP Central Committee member Willie Deutsch. “It is really now the last option on the table.”

The convention is set for May 8.

Members of the committee have been bitterly divided over how to select their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — a process that has stretched over multiple meetings and months.

A majority of members have favored a convention since the beginning, but they were unable to muster the super-majority of votes necessary to change the party plan to allow the event to take place in a COVID-19-friendly, remote format as the remainder of members continued to push for a state-run primary.

By the time the central committee met on Tuesday evening, the deadline to ask the state to hold primary on their behalf had passed and the pro-primary camp proposed a party-run canvass as an alternative.

Unlike a state-run primary, the method chosen by Democrats for 2021, a canvass, also known as a firehouse primary, would have allowed the GOP to set up and run its own voting sites around the state. And unlike a convention, it would have allowed anyone to participate without being selected as a delegate by their local GOP unit.

Supporters of a canvass, which included three former GOP governors, argued it would allow for broader participation than a convention and avoid potentially running afoul of pandemic restrictions on large gatherings.

“For today, we respectfully implore you, for those candidates who might wish to follow in our footsteps as statewide elected officials, to end the stalemate, select a canvass and unite to win in November,” wrote former Govs. Bob McDonnell, George Allen and Jim Gilmore in their letter to the committee.

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