‘Tired of getting whupped’: GOP convention voters offer competing visions for a red Virginia

Delegates in the Virginia GOP's "unassembled convention" fill out ballots at the Amelia County...
Delegates in the Virginia GOP's "unassembled convention" fill out ballots at the Amelia County Veterans Center.(Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)
Updated: May. 9, 2021 at 3:10 PM EDT
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Republicans around Virginia streamed into voting sites Saturday to choose their nominee for governor, and in Caroline County, Don Denton was first in line.

He said he was backing Amanda Chase, a state senator who ran a hard-right campaign and pitched herself as “Trump in heels” despite the former president’s overwhelming losses in Virginia, which has grown progressively bluer in the 11 years since a Republican last won a statewide election.

A 73-year-old former Marine sergeant, Denton compared Chase’s tactics — which have made her a pariah to many mainstream Republicans and a populist champion for those who prefer more combative politics — to military leaders ordering soldiers to take a hill knowing “a certain percentage of them” will die.

“That’s the responsibility of leadership. And it’s not easy,” Denton said, arguing moving toward the center hasn’t worked well for Republicans in the past. “If you don’t want to make those hard decisions, don’t be a leader.”

There were no easy answers Saturday evening for which direction Virginia Republicans have chosen to go in an election widely seen as one of the party’s first big tests of the post-Trump era. The GOP chose a convention over a primary to select its nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general after a protracted battle among leadership and isn’t expecting results until early next week because the party opted to transport all the ballots to Richmond, where they will be hand-counted in successive rounds to accommodate a complex weighting and ranking process.

Party officials were unable to provide official turnout statistics Saturday showing how many ballots had been cast, but multiple campaigns estimated about 30,000 ballots were cast overall, a turnout that would represent less than 60 percent of the 53,000 registered delegates. State GOP Chairman Rich Anderson released a statement saying the party “could not be happier with how smoothly and efficiently our convention was run.”

“We would also like to ensure all the convention delegates that their ballots will be counted fairly and accurately — leaving no room for doubt or question as to whom our nominees will be,” Anderson said.