Pat Mullins, chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, opens the 2013 Virginia Republican convention in Richmond on Friday. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

With this year’s GOP gubernatorial nominee set, attention is on two other statewide ­races on the Republican side of the November ballot — particularly the crowded, contentious field vying to become lieutenant governor.

That race features seven hopefuls and has turned nasty in recent weeks, with negative campaigning dominating the contest as the candidates head into the state party convention. About 13,500 delegates will choose the winner in Richmond on Saturday.

“There’s been a lot of mudslinging going on late in the campaign, mostly for the front-runners,” said Richard Foret, a delegate from Culpeper County who is supporting E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor. “I don’t think negative campaigning works.”

With Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II set as the party’s gubernatorial nominee and only two GOP candidates, Del. Robert B. Bell (Charlottesville) and state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (Harrisonburg), in the running to replace him, the lieutenant governor’s race could draw the most attention because it may take several ballots before delegates settle on a nominee.

Fighting for that nomination are Jackson, a former U.S. Senate candidate; former state senator and delegate Jeannemarie Davis of Fairfax; Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William; state Sen. Stephen H. Martin of Chesterfield; businessman Pete Snyder; Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors; and Susan B. Stimpson, chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors. All have spent weeks recruiting delegates to Richmond in hopes of securing their support.

More Post coverage of the race for Virginia governor.

On Saturday, the votes will be cast via electronic ballot. The field of seven candidates will first be narrowed to five, then thinned to three and then whittled to two before the nominee is named.

The process could take hours. Between balloting, the surviving candidates will woo the losers’ supporters, better positioning themselves without angering a potential adversary-turned-ally.

Delegates are free agents to be courted until the last votes are cast.

Burgess and Carolyn Macneal of Giles County were pondering Friday who they might support in the second round. Both said they plan to initially support Jackson as a matter of principle.

“Odds are, he won’t win because he’s underfunded,” Burgess Macneal said. “We want to make sure how we feel is known.”

Among the barrage of phone calls and mailers courting his vote, he said he received a flier denouncing Lingamfelter that portrayed him as a lipstick-wearing pig.

“I call that dirty,” he said. “I had no clue who the man was. And then I got a mailing from him after having gotten that other mailing. . . . It sort of prejudices you.”

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is leaving office after two terms, and control of the evenly divided state Senate rests with his replacement. As the chamber’s presiding officer, the lieutenant governor breaks tie votes, which have frequently fallen along partisan lines in recent years.

On Friday, most of the hundreds of campaign banners and signs lining the walls and rails at the Richmond Coliseum were for the lieutenant governor hopefuls. Among the most prevalent were Stewart’s, bearing the slogan “Won’t Back Down”; some promoted Snyder, and others signaled to Stimpson and Lingamfelter. Jackson, Martin and Davis had few signs posted Friday evening.

Some delegates Friday spent time conducting party business, finding where their delegations were seated and getting the lay of the land.

Kathy Crockett, who will represent Goochland County with about 80 other delegates, was enthusiastic about the chaotic process.

The lieutenant governor’s race “certainly is going to spend the most time tomorrow,” Crockett said. “But it’s wonderful that we have such viable, electable candidates coming forth. This year, beating the Democrats won’t be a problem.”

But Robert Sampson of Chesterfield County said he wishes things were different.

“It’s too bad that they couldn’t have made it easier for us to select a candidate by lessening the number of people that are going for it,” he said. “The only way you can win is by stabbing your buddy in the back.”