Va. Republicans Still Divided as They Prepare to Name a New Chairman

Lauren Giere, left, sings the national anthem as the convention opens in Richmond. Pat Mullins, the interim party chairman, is at center.
Lauren Giere, left, sings the national anthem as the convention opens in Richmond. Pat Mullins, the interim party chairman, is at center. (By Bob Brown -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 30, 2009

RICHMOND -- Virginia Republicans ousted their controversial leader last month, but the beleaguered party still suffers from sharp divisions that could pose problems during the critical fall campaign.

As more than 10,000 GOP activists gather in Richmond this weekend to choose a new leader, many Republicans remain deeply divided over who is best positioned to represent the party as it tries to adjust to the state's demographic changes and start winning again.

Some local activists accuse the state's top elected Republicans, including gubernatorial nominee Robert F. McDonnell, of once again trying to dictate who should be party chairman.

"These are the establishment people all over again," said Jo-Ann Chase, a Republican activist from Loudoun County. "You don't run the party as a dictatorship. This is supposed to be democracy."

Pat Mullins, a longtime Fairfax County GOP leader tapped by the party's governing board to serve as interim state leader, faces Bill Stanley, the Franklin County party chairman, at the state Republican convention Saturday.

Mullins and Stanley -- self-described conservatives -- are vying to replace Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William County, who was removed in April after he was accused of a series of financial missteps, internal disagreements and political gaffes. The party has changed chairmen six times in as many years.

Those who oppose Mullins, 71, said they are worried that he will compromise his conservative principles to attract moderate voters. They want a younger leader who they say can appeal to tech-savvy and ethnic voters who have migrated to the Democratic Party, including the growing Hispanic and Asian communities in Northern Virginia.

"The face of the party is very important right now," said Michael Giere, a Republican activist from Falls Church who supports Stanley. "I just don't believe in 2009 that Pat is the right public face."

The conflict over the chairmanship has split the party for months, at times overshadowing GOP efforts to reverse the political tide.

McDonnell, the former attorney general, will officially accept his party's nomination for governor Saturday, and activists will pick Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling faces Alexandria lawyer Patrick Muldoon. Former federal prosecutor John Brownlee, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II of Fairfax and David M. Foster, former chairman of the Arlington County School Board, are running for attorney general.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is considering another run for president in 2012, was the headliner at a sold-out party fundraiser attended by 1,200 Friday night.

Virginia's new chairman will need to immediately concentrate on raising money, unifying the party and coordinating efforts to capture key statewide offices and hold on to a six-seat majority in the House of Delegates.

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