I’ve been getting an avalanche of questions lately relating to how Virginia’s delegates to the Republican National Convention will be chosen and bound. In the interests of efficiency, here are my answers for all to see:
How are Virginia’s delegates selected?
Just like in most states. Each Congressional district gets to pick three delegates and three alternates. In Virginia we elect those at Congressional District Conventions. So far, only the 9th and 10th Districts have held their conventions, which resulted in delegates supporting Ted Cruz attaining 5 out of the 6 delegate seats. Virginia also elects 13 at-large delegates and 13 at-large alternates at its State Convention, coming up on April 29-30 in Harrisonburg.
Finally, rounding out the 49-member Virginia delegation are Virginia’s members of the Republican National Committee: the RPV Chairman, our National Committeeman, and National Committeewoman. These are currently John Whitbeck, Morton Blackwell, and Kathy Terry, respectively. Although Blackwell has an extremely misguided challenger this year, and Terry is stepping down from her post, both will continue to serve until their current terms expire after this year’s National Convention.
When is my District Convention and how do I attend?
All the information you need to know about your District Conventions can be found on the website of the Republican Party of Virginia, here. The next two District Conventions are in the 1st, 3rd, and 8th Districts on May 7. You are welcome to attend your District Convention as a guest observer, but unless you were elected a delegate to that Convention by your local mass meeting, you won’t be able to vote. All local mass meetings have now been held, so if you’re not already a District Convention delegate, you’ve missed your chance this time.
How do I go to the State Convention?
Just like with the District Conventions, to attend as a voting participant in the State Convention, you must first have been elected as a delegate from your city or county at your local mass meeting.
Who is running at the State level and at the District level?
Well, that’s not as straightforward a question as it might seem. As far as I know, RPV does not maintain a central list of everyone running for National Delegate and Alternate at the District Conventions. Some Districts helpfully post this information on their websites, some don’t post anything, or don’t have a website at all. One (the 2nd) still has an open filing period, so we don’t yet know who will be running. If you’re interested in finding out who is running in your District, try the District Committee’s website first, then try to contact the District Chairman or Secretary, who will usually be more than happy to let you know who has filed to run.
At the state level, the list of candidates can be found here.
Who should I vote for at the State Convention?
That’s an interesting question. Many states have a very open and direct election for their at-large delegation. For instance, in Colorado, their state convention directly ballots for their at-large delegation, even though it typically means a ballot that has hundreds of choices on it. (The optical scan ballot has numbers that correspond with the names of the candidates, to save space).
By contrast, the Virginia GOP has for several decades used a much more “old school” method. Here, there is a Nominations Committee that examines the list of filed candidates (sometimes hundreds of names long) and arrives at a slate of 13 Delegates and 13 Alternates that is presented to the State Convention.
The composition of the Nominations Committee is set by Party rules, so in contrast to mass meeting committees, its membership cannot be altered by the Convention. Its members include two persons appointed by the RPV Chairman (the committee chairman and an at-large member), and then a member appointed by each of the 11 Congressional District GOP Chairmen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the at-large delegation has often been heavy on inclusion of former statewide elected officials, top politicos and donors, and those who otherwise have an inside track.
In recent memory, the Convention has always approved the delegation recommended by the Nominations Committee (though there have been many threats of floor fights, I’m told). This year, in contrast to previous years, there is certainly going to be more potential for a floor fight—because the way those people vote at the National Convention could have a direct bearing on who our next President will be. The Trump and Cruz campaigns each have a very important interest in who is elected. If they are consistent with prior rules, this year’s Convention rules will allow for a full substitute delegation nomination to be made from the floor (not nomination of individual delegate candidates) only if and when the Nominations Committee report is voted down.
We will likely not know who is on the Nominations Committee report until after the Convention has begun; in the past, the Nominations Committee has typically conducted candidate interviews with some subset of applicants on the Friday of a convention weekend, and only then do they come to a final decision.
How will the Virginia delegation vote?
The RPV State Central Committee adopted a delegate allocation plan that required that 46 of our 49 delegates be bound in proportion to the results of the March 1, 2016 presidential preference primary. SCC voted to allow the three RNC members to remain unbound, a provision later overturned by RNC. (Not sure what the how and why is behind that, but it’s apparently a done deal). However, as most readers undoubtedly know, Virginia’s delegates are bound only on the first ballot. If Donald Trump does not have a majority of bound delegates on the first ballot, then Virginia’s delegation is free to vote as they wish on the second and subsequent ballots. Hence all the interest in the delegate process this year. Given that the nomination battle in Cleveland has the potential to be very close, the selection of every single delegate is important, and potentially historic.
Who is going to represent Virginia on the Rules Committee?
There are four committees at the Republican National Convention: Rules, Credentials, Platform, and Permanent Organization. Each are composed of one man and one woman from each state and territory’s delegation. Committee assignments will be made by votes taken among the delegation in early June, after all the Congressional District Conventions are completed and the delegation is finalized. Virginia’s very highly respected National Committeeman, Morton Blackwell, has represented Virginia on the Rules Committee for quite some time, and is a trove of institutional memory.
Does Rule 40(b) still bar nomination of any candidate other than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump when many delegates become unbound after the first ballot?
The now-infamous RNC Rule 40(b) states that no candidate who has not won the support of a majority of delegates (i.e., not a plurality) in each of at least 8 states may not have his or her name placed into nomination for president. Rule 16(a)(2) makes clear that a delegate bound to one candidate cannot lend his support for purposes of Rule 40 to any other candidate.
If any delegate bound by these rules, state party rule or state law to vote for a presidential candidate at the national convention demonstrates support under Rule 40 for any person other than the candidate to whom he or she is bound, such support shall not be recognized.
Thus, the restriction in 16(a)(2) appears to only survive as long as a delegate is bound, meaning that after the first ballot, any candidate who can muster and certify the support of a majority of delegates from each of 8 states can be nominated. This is how a so-called “parachute” candidate could potentially be nominated, even without any changes to Rule 40(b).
UPDATE: It appears there is a consensus emerging that Rule 40(e) prevents a new name from being added to the list of those nominated once voting begins. This means that if the rules don’t change, the contest will be between just Trump and Cruz, and no parachute candidates will be able to have their names placed into nomination. (Hat tip: Morton Blackwell and commenter Amy H.)
Disclosure: I am currently a candidate for National Delegate from the 1st Congressional District, on the Ted Cruz-endorsed ticket with Jeanine Lawson and Laurie Tryfiates. I also currently serve on the State Convention Rules Committee, and the Nominations Committee.