Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or just aren’t tuned into Virginia Republican politics, you know the the Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee will be considering this weekend whether to adopt the official call for a convention to nominate the party’s candidates for statewide office in 2017. Almost all of the 2017 statewide candidates provided their views to TBE on what they hope to see.
The operating assumption of many party leaders, including Chairman John Whitbeck and a number of otherwise pro-primary members of the State Central Committee, has been that the party will adhere to the compromise reached last year. Pursuant to that compromise, the party held a presidential primary in lieu of a convention in 2016 in exchange for holding a convention to nominate statewide candidates in 2017. Of course, this compromise is not legally binding, and the body reserves the right to change its mind. (Those who are protesting loudly about there having been no deal, or that the deal isn’t binding, are fighting with straw men).
The question is not whether SCC can change its mind, but whether it should. In contrast to the reversal of nomination method decision in 2012 for the 2013 statewide races (which had the effect of setting aside a deal between Attorney General McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bolling), this deal involves an agreement strictly among members of the State Central Committee itself. Reneging on the deal would damage party unity at a perilous time, and would seriously undermine the kind of trust members of State Central deserve to be able to place in their fellow members.
It appears one 2017 candidate agrees. In a move likely to generate support among convention fans, Sen. Bryce Reeves, who is running for Lieutenant Governor, issued the following statement on Monday, calling on the State Central Committee to preserve unity by observing the previously reached compromise, and calling on his fellow statewide candidates to do the same:
I’m asking State Central Committee members to support and vote for a convention for 2017 and urging anyone considering a run for office next year to join me in that call. As a passionate conservative who has come up through Virginia’s grassroots – serving as a volunteer then a county chairman – I feel very strongly that Republican activists are the best individuals to select our nominees for public office.
I’m a steadfast supporter of a convention for next year’s nomination process. It’s important to keep our party unified by maintaining an agreement we made to select our candidates through a convention in 2017. While I respect everyone’s views on this issue, Virginia’s open primaries allow Democrats to participate in the selection of our nominees – but the convention process ensures that the dedicated volunteers who will do the door knocking and make the phone calls to get our nominees elected pick the candidates who most closely reflect our core principles and values. – Sen. Bryce Reeves
Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier), also running for the GOP Lieutenant Governor nod next year, spoke to us to go on the record with her views.
Vogel has been known in the past as being generally supportive of primaries, though she does not appear to have taken any high profile actions in furtherance of that position. However, Vogel says she’s not going to weigh in on this year’s decision. “I’m not going to take one side or the other, and tell State Central how they should vote,” she told TBE. Vogel noted in our interview that she has been preparing for nomination by a convention.
I’ve been focused on running a grassroots campaign necessary to win among Republican activists and convention goers. A lot of the people helping me, the volunteers and grassroots leaders, are convention people. This isn’t a process where we make it about ourselves.” – Sen. Jill Vogel
Vogel made a point to remark that Monday’s statement from Reeves about being a convention supporter “appears to be a change from his prior position,” stopping short of otherwise criticizing the move by Reeves.
The third candidate for LG, Del Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach), provided a statement on the matter to TBE (later circulated via email to supporters):
I had no intention to comment on State Central’s upcoming decision regarding the method of nomination. However, after a recent email by a 2017 state-wide candidate urging committee members to support his preference and calling out other 2017 candidates to do the same, as well as many others inquiring as to my preference, I felt compelled to issue a statement.
I have not wasted my time over-analyzing which method of nomination may be best for our campaign, because that decision is something that I cannot control, nor would it be proper for me to try to influence that decision. I entered this race feeling strongly that our strategy and our message of restoring Virginia’s status as the best state in the nation for business and job growth would provide a path to success under either method of nomination.
I appreciate all those that serve our party on State Central, I understand all of the viewpoints associated with primaries and conventions, and I respect State Central’s right to make a decision without the self-serving influence from those of us that would be impacted by their decision. For that reason, I decline the invitation by my opponent to get involved in attempting to influence State Central’s decision, and look forward to making Virginia #1 again for business and job growth under whatever method of nomination is chosen.” – Del. Glenn Davis
Richmond attorney John Adams, who is running for the Attorney General nomination, has publicly expressed support for conventions while on the campaign trail. When contacted for comment, Adams’ campaign manager, our friend Nick Collette, said,
John Adams got in this race expecting a convention and has stated that he supports conventions while out on the campaign trail. However, this is a decision for State Central to make and we are prepared to run regardless of which nomination method is chosen.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Charlottesville Delegate Rob Bell (whom we have dubbed The Hardest Working Man in Virginia Politics™). Bell is also running for Attorney General, and had this to say:
I’m comfortable with the current plans for a convention, but am fine with whatever State Central decides. I just want to know which one it will be.” – Del. Rob Bell
Sensing a theme?
Finally, the gubernatorial campaigns have also weighed in. First up: Ed Gillespie. The ebullient former U.S. Senate nominee, whose PAC has already raised well over $1 million in support of his bid for Governor, has declined to become a part of the decision-making process:
I have friends and supporters who are for primaries, and friends and supporters who are for conventions. I’ve told people on both sides of the question that I would not insert myself into the State Central Committee’s discussion and I am keeping my word. Just tell me what the rules are and I will play by them.” – Ed Gillespie
Likewise, Rep. Rob Wittman, the popular congressman from the First District, has also decided the best policy is to defer to the party’s representatives:
I’m respectful of the compromise decision State Central reached last year, and I’ll respect whatever decision they make this year. I have been and will continue to be focused on the campaign itself, whether it’s in a primary or a convention. I’ve consistently stated that it is not my place to interfere with the job of the State Central Committee.” – Rep. Rob Wittman
The remaining candidate for Governor, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, breaks with most of his fellow candidates, and joins Bryce Reeves in urging the State Central Committee to preserve unity and trust:
Virginia Republicans have been at odds over the nomination process for almost a decade, creating unnecessary infighting and weakening our primary goal of being successful in November. The past State Central Committee (SCC) came to a commonsense compromise to help unify the party.
This past March we participated in the first action of that compromise and exercised our right to vote in the Presidential Primary. As Donald Trump’s Virginia State Chair, I and many others were pleased with the results of the primary. As a candidate for statewide office in 2017, I can see a path to victory whether the SCC chooses a convention or a primary. More importantly, if the SCC goes back on the compromise, it will be a harder path to victory in 2017 for the party as a whole, as we deal with more infighting and distrust, that will inevitably be created from their decision.
We all must come together and unify for the sake of winning, not just this November, but in future elections. That is why I am asking the members of the SCC to uphold the compromise this Saturday and vote convention, and not push the vote to a later date-causing more uncertainty for grassroots activists and campaigns around the state.” – Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart
So there you have it, friends.
There is a lot of varied speculation about how Saturday’s SCC meeting will turn out. Some folks seem confident that the compromise will be preserved. Others fear that some members will seek to shield themselves from accountability to the voters–to whom promises of upholding the compromise were made—by instituting a secret ballot and allowing them to go back on their word.
Still others suggest that SCC should stop short of adhering to the compromise by tabling the question until after the November election, ostensibly to await determination of whether we must nominate a Senate candidate to replace a Vice President Kaine. (This tactic is pretty crafty, and pretty slippery…donning the armor of weak excuses to justify an action one is too timid to take honestly and forthrightly). This of course would effectively kill a convention, as the likelihood that a suitable venue would remain available is quite low, which is why previous contested convention decisions in recent memory have taken place earlier than December of the prior year. Regardless, we needn’t assume there will be a need to make a Senate nomination, and that if we do it must be a nomination by Convention; it doesn’t have to be.
We’ll see which way it goes in a few days. In any case, TBE will be on hand and will be providing live coverage. Stay tuned.