Va. GOP to hold May 8 “drive-in” convention, possibly in Lynchburg
State Central Committee rejects party-run primary proposal backed by three former governors
After months of discussion and indecision, the Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee elected Tuesday night to hold a May 8 “drive-in” convention — possibly around Liberty University in Lynchburg — to choose its 2021 statewide nominees for governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor.
The state GOP committee conducted a three-hour, occasionally contentious public Zoom meeting Tuesday to decide between holding a convention or a party-run primary known as a “canvass.” If the committee hadn’t been able to reach a decision, its 72 members would have selected this year’s slate of statewide Republican candidates.
The convention method chosen Tuesday will allow Republican voters to submit ballots in person, ranking candidates in order of preference.
Committee members raised the option of holding the event at parking lots in or around the private Christian university in Lynchburg — although in a statement Wednesday, Liberty officials said the school has not yet agreed to rent space for the event.
The decision to hold the convention went against the views of many Republican voters, judging from comments made during the livestreamed meeting. Some party members speaking during the meeting urged the committee to choose a primary in order to spare voters in some corners of the state from making a long drive. Also, three former Republican governors of Virginia wrote a letter Tuesday to the members of the committee urging them to hold a canvass.
“We strongly urge you to put aside differences tonight and select a canvass, which has been successfully used many times previously by our party,” said the letter signed by former Virginia Govs. George Allen, Jim Gilmore and Bob McDonnell. “It would not require an amendment to the party plan, preregistration or mass meetings, nor does it limit the number of Republicans who can participate in the nominating process. It also screens out Democrat participation through signing a pledge, and very importantly, allows for ranked choice voting that is permitted by the party plan.”
Because the state-designated deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday had passed by the time of the GOP’s committee meeting, the Republican Party of Virginia could no longer decide to hold a state-run primary at taxpayer cost, as the state Democratic Party plans to do on June 8.
There’s often controversy over nomination methods, typically breaking down between conservatives vs. moderates, but this year’s process has been unusually fraught. Gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, filed a lawsuit against the GOP, attempting to force the party to hold a state-run primary election. Chase’s suit requested that the Richmond Circuit Court declare that the party is allowed only to hold an in-person convention — leading to the inevitable decision that such a gathering would be illegal under Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 72 limiting gatherings to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
However, a Richmond Circuit Court judge threw out the suit Friday because the party had not yet settled on its method of nominating candidates, so there was no injury to Chase.
In a tweet Wednesday, Chase wrote: “So the RPV’s governing board chose a nomination process that is currently illegal under the Governor’s current executive order. We are headed toward 72 members of the SCC choosing our statewide nominees.”
Chase has contended that the party’s State Central Committee was attempting to lock her out of a nomination by making it more difficult for voters to make their preference known at a primary election. Chase is leading the field of Republican candidates in recent polls by at least seven points, but Chase is not personally popular among party officials, due to a series of controversies.
The self-described “Trump in heels,” far-right candidate was censured by the Virginia State Senate in January with votes from three Republican senators, and she left the Senate Republican caucus in 2019 over a conflict with Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment, R-Virginia Beach. Chase also was kicked out of the Chesterfield County Republican Party after making disparaging remarks about the former Republican sheriff.
Her opponents — among them Del. Kirk Cox, former Carlyle Group CEO Glenn A. Youngkin and retired Army Col. Sergio de la Peña — said last week they had no preference about which nomination method would be used, but Cox and Youngkin expressed concern that the matter had not yet been settled with less than four months before the June 8 deadline for candidates to be chosen for this November’s ballot. Venture capitalist Pete Snyder, another GOP gubernatorial hopeful, did not respond to a request for comment.
After her court case was tossed, Chase said in a statement, “Primaries are best for Virginians as they are more inclusive and don’t create extra hoops for the people who want to vote to jump through. I’ve at least raised awareness as to what they are doing and taken the smoke out of a smoke-filled room. The people are watching. They see what they’re doing and they’re not happy about it. It’s up to the [State Central Committee] to do the right thing.”
In an email to her supporters last week, Chase suggested they make plans to travel to vote in a convention.
According to Liberty’s statement, the school has been contacted by Virginia GOP officials about the possibility of leasing portions of retail parking lots owned by the university but had not agreed to a contract as of Wednesday.
“Liberty University tries to be a good neighbor and promote civic engagement,” the statement reads, noting that it told the state GOP it would consider renting off-campus parking areas at full market rates. “Liberty would do likewise on comparable terms if another political party or candidate asked. Excess parking in retail centers controlled by Liberty University have been leased on a temporary basis for years to carnivals, circuses, car dealerships, and the like.”