Elected officials, activists, and operatives from the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) are meeting in the mountains of Bath County to celebrate their major wins in the 2021 elections and to plan the rejuvenated party’s future.
“Every state party across the country has its signature event,” former RPV Chairman John Whitbeck told The Virginia Star. “Virginia GOP’s signature event has always been this weekend.”
He said, “It’s got three purposes. One is to discuss the year behind and talk about the year ahead, and talk about what’s going on in the party, expose everyone to new faces that might be running in the next year, what not. Two, to ensure that the party does its business. There’s a State Central Committee meeting that happens and it’s usually a pretty important one. There’s usually some substantive business done in the December meeting at the Advance. And then three, to raise money. This is the party’s biggest fundraiser and if it’s successful it kind of funds the party for the first half of the year in the following year.”
“This one, from what I understand talking to staff, has been extremely successful fundraising-wise, which is not surprising considering we just had a great election year,” he said.
The 2021 Donald W. Hoffman Advance will feature speakers including Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears, who is giving the keynote address. Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will kick off the event on Friday and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares will speak on Saturday. There will be breakout sessions and networking events for party insiders.
Sears’ Transition Director Chris Saxman said in an interview with The Star, “The theme of this transition is unity, and [Sear’s] message is unifying not just the party, but also Virginians and Americans to do good things and stop fighting one another and being divided all the time.”
The 2021 Advance marks the first time in years the event has actually made a profit for the RPV, according to officials. It also represents a return to strong turnout at the event, with about 400 to 500 people expected.
In 2020, the Advance was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions. The 2019 event featured embarrassingly low turnout, symptomatic of low enthusiasm amid Republican losses — just four years after the 2015 Advance which saw record attendance, about 600 people.
“I think there’s an enthusiasm and an intensity to it that correlates with electoral success, it’s that simple,” Whitbeck said. “I’d say 2019 was the one that was the most challenging, because you’re talking about three years in a row where we’re just getting beat.”
Republicans have won Virginia’s top three seats. On Friday, Karen Greenhalgh’s win to serve in the House of Delegates was confirmed in a recount, giving Republicans control of the House of Delegates, leaving only the Senate narrowly controlled by Democrats. That’s led to big enthusiasm at the 2021 Advance.
Virginia Federation of Republican Women Member-at-Large Juanita Balenger said the first Advance was held in the early 1980s at the Ingleside Resort.
“I think my first Advance was 1985, going to the Ingleside, and it’s gotten bigger and better,” she told The Star. “The reason I’m coming, and I have not been able to come the last few years, and I wanted to get back because with our clean sweep here in Virginia, we captured all three statewide races.”
Balenger said it reminded her of 2009 and 1993, when the RPV was also celebrating big wins.
“Another reason for coming is looking at our successes,” she said. “We have to look at all the components, all the different coalitions that came together.”
The 2021 Republican gains featured a diverse group including the business community, law enforcement, Trump supporters, and even Democrats who didn’t support McAuliffe.
“When everybody comes together we win, and these are lessons that we can take now at this Advance as we move into 2022 with the midterm elections,” Balenger said.
Virginia’s Republican National Committeewoman Patti Lyman told The Star, “My campaign theme in 2020 was ‘The Real Virginia is RED!’ Most Virginians believe pretty much like we do in terms of protecting their families and their economic interests, and the last two years have been so painful for them they see they’ve been voting for the wrong party. Republicans persuaded them to vote the way they already believe. We need to build on that at this Advance to do even better in 2022.”
“We are here this weekend to celebrate our theme of ‘Advancing Together,'” RPV Chairman Rich Anderson said in a letter handed out to event attendees.
He highlighted the need to protect Republican congressmen in the upcoming midterms, and the party’s goal to flip Virginia’s second, seventh, and tenth congressional districts.
“And in the midst of all that, we intend to rain fire down on Democrat enclaves and challenge everywhere for boards of supervisors, school boards, town and city councils, mayorships, and even soil and water conservation districts,” Anderson wrote. “No — and I mean no — battle will go unfought by Virginia Republicans.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Photo “Jason Miyares” by Jason Miyares. Photo “Winsome Sears” by Winsome Sears. Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0.