The Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) State Central Committee (SCC) failed to clarify the nominating method for its 2021 candidates in a meeting Saturday.
SCC members voted again to approve a convention, making it contingent on passing an amendment allowing an unassembled convention based on Governor Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions. The convention nomination method was first passed by the SCC on December 6 by a 42-30 majority. On Saturday, the amendment got a 41-30 majority but less than the three-fourths approval required by party rules. The SCC tabled the issue until a future meeting, tentatively planned for next Saturday.
Having lost the votes for the amendment, the majority quickly voted to adjourn before a primary or other business could be discussed.
The result is that technically, an in-person convention is still the nomination method planned by the RPV for 2021, which is illegal under the current COVID-19 restrictions in Virginia.
Even though they hold the minority, primary supporters can defeat party plan amendments, which require a three-fourths majority to pass. As a result, the SCC is now in a standoff between those who want to continue with an unassembled convention and a minority of the party who want to change the decision to a primary.
After the contentious meeting, one SCC member who was not authorized to speak to the press said that the minority was holding a gun to the head of the RPV.
SCC Member Nancy Dye told The Virginia Star, “I have never been more disheartened by the behavior of my fellow Republicans in today’s meeting. I voted no on convention rules and no on adjournment.”
Some primary proponents worry that an unassembled convention is open to manipulation and difficult to carry out. Before considering the unassembled convention amendments, the SCC had to address discrepancies from the 2020 unassembled convention held in the seventh district.
Dye served on the committee for last summer’s convention. She said, “Some districts carried it off flawlessly without problems but even today we were still dealing with a seventh district appeal, many months later, it wasn’t settled.”
Dye said more executive orders from Northam could impact the convention process. She expects more strain to be put on the RPV nomination in 2021 given the growth in voters and heightened political tension.
“Add on top of it the cost, the manpower to execute it effectively, these are almost insurmountable problems when we have an exponential number of voters in a statewide election,” Dye said.
In the meeting, SCC Member Linda Bartlett said that if problems like those from 2020 occurred in the 2021 unassembled convention, the party risked not having a valid candidate to run for office.
She said, “If any one of the [11 districts] has the same situation this year that the seventh district had last year, that impacts everybody in the Commonwealth and it would impact whether or not we even have candidates for the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the attorney general. I don’t see how we can risk that.”
In the meeting, RPV National Committeeman Morton Blackwell referred to the month of infighting that erupted after the December decision. Blackwell said, “What we have in this issue is something that as far as I know is unprecedented in the Republican Party of Virginia. We have had one side on this question that has proceeded to argue the merits of the question. But we have had an immense and despicable effort to put pressure on members of this committee who voted for a convention.”
Blackwell said some members who voted for a convention were harassed and threatened.
“It was absolutely despicable, and frankly if we allow that kind of tactic to be important to the winning side on this event, then we are going to encourage other rotten behavior,” he said.
Dye told The Star that RPV Chair Rich Anderson needed to investigate Blackwell’s allegations and throw perpetrators out of the party if true. But she said that continuing to block a convention wasn’t caving to agitators, but rather a continued stand on her convictions.
“I do believe a primary is the best decision, and so, by not changing my vote, I stayed consistent to it,” she said. “I try to decide what I think is the best thing for the party and I try to just vote on the principles and not take sides.”
2021 Election Impacts
The RPV has a long history with conventions, which tend to generate hard-line candidates who lose in statewide general elections. Republicans hope to retake some of the top state offices in 2021, but a typical hard-line convention candidate will likely flounder in a general election in increasingly blue Virginia.
The prolonged debate over primary versus convention is costly for candidates for the RPV nomination.
Political campaign consultant Brian Kirwin told The Star, “The most troublesome part is the uncertainty. We’re already into January and campaigns are already underway and nobody can be 100 percent sure of what the method of nomination will be, when it will be and how it will be conducted.”
Kirwin said, “In primaries, candidates would like to spend January collecting thousands of petition signatures that will be due in March. In conventions, they’d want to sign up delegates to the convention. It’s two totally different kinds of campaigns, and for candidates, the clock is ticking.”
After the meeting, Blackwell didn’t know what the eventual result would be. He told The Star, “The calendar is the force majeur and we’re going to have to have a nominating process, and one side or the other will prevail.”
Dye said, “I think it’s a sad day for Republicans and I hope that from here we can learn some painful lessons about what its going to take us to do going forward to unite as a party despite our differences in order to build a party that can win election.”
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