The big political news in Virginia this past week came out of the 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Bob Goodlatte. Goodlatte is retiring this year. Immediately after he announced his retirement, National Committeewoman Cynthia Dunbar and Delegate Ben Cline announced their candidacies for the open seat. Since then, four other candidates have announced.
Fast forward to this past Saturday, the 6th. The Sixth Congressional District Committee met, and, as expected and promised by most of its members, chose a convention to select the Congressional nominee this year. It will take place May 19th, in Harrisonburg. Belying much previous rhetoric by many members of the committee, led by Vice Chairman Matt Tederick, an employee of the Dunbar campaign, the Committee voted to nominate a candidate by a single-ballot plurality, like a mass meeting almost, rather than by multiple rounds of balloting until one candidate acquires a majority. This is nearly unprecedented in Virginia Republican history in a case like this. It is also a naked, cynical power play by the Dunbar campaign.
First, the situational ethics being practiced by the staff of the Dunbar campaign are sickening. These are longtime conservatives who have always been pro-convention, and along with making sure that nominees are chosen by the most informed, engaged Republicans and allowing the candidates to meet those party members and activists, the purpose of a convention is to garner a majority behind the nominee. If the roles were reversed, there is no doubt these same people would be crying foul… and they would be right to do so.
Second, this lends credence to the idea that Dunbar thinks her only shot to win the nomination is with a plurality. With 6 candidates, it’s not implausible for someone to gain a plurality with 17-18%, depending on the range of strengths of the candidates. This is obviously not the best way to select a nominee, and certainly bot the best way to unite the party in the 6th behind the nominee. If this had been used in Dunbar’s native state of Texas in 2012 during the Republican contest for U.S. Senate, we’d have gotten moderate David Dewhurst rather than conservative rock star Senator Ted Cruz! This reeks of political cowardice.
Third, the Dunbar camp has been continually trying to drive a narrative that Ben Cline is ‘establishment’. This is simply ridiculous on its face. Ben Cline chaired the Conservative Caucus in the House of Delegates when Cynthia Dunbar still lived in Texas, and has been a thorn in the side of the establishment since he was first elected. This charge is based solely on the fact that Del. Cline was once Goodlatte’s Chief of Staff. Cynthia Dunbar has been a solid member of the RNC, and she did a great job defeating the establishment candidate, Suzanne Obenshain, at the 2016 RPV convention. That said, she has a long way to go to match Ben Cline’s record of conservatism here in the Old Dominion. Indeed, this behavior, exacerbated by her interview on the John Fredericks Show on Tuesday, gives the impression that she and her partisans are playing the role of the ‘establishment’.
The right thing to do here is for the 6th District Committee to convene a special meeting and rescind the single-ballot rule, especially given that there is an RPV general counsel ruling that may make this illegal under the Party Plan. Additionally, the Dunbar campaign should ditch the laughable narrative of Cline being ‘establishment’ post haste. Similarly, some supporters of Delegate Cline need to stop trying to make Committeewoman Dunbar’s past divorce and marriage an issue. This should have been a clean campaign of ideas between two conservatives, and so far, that’s not what we’re getting. Coming into this, I immediately supported Delegate Cline, but I remember thinking how lucky the 6th was to have two conservatives of this quality running. Now, I’m not so sure.