The convention-primary debate is a perennial one for a party long split among conservative and moderate factions. Conservatives tend to favor conventions because only party-chosen delegates can participate, while moderates say primaries open to all voters will grow the party and avoid the nomination of fringe candidates.
Some of that calculus has been scrambled this time, with a Trumpian candidate, state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), staunchly opposed to a convention because she says party leaders would rig it against her. Another all-but-declared contender — Glenn Youngkin, a former Carlyle Group executive whose enormous wealth would be a bigger advantage in a primary — also appears to be part of the equation, with some Youngkin foes pushing for a convention.
The coronavirus pandemic is yet another factor. Crowd-size restrictions meant to stem the spread of the virus could make it impossible to hold a convention, typically a daylong affair in which thousands of delegates from across the state gather under one roof.
Pro-convention members had hoped to sidestep the coronavirus issue by changing party bylaws on Saturday to allow an “unassembled” convention, which would take place in multiple locations around the state and allow for ranked-choice voting. The latter would let participants cast a ballot and leave, rather than stay all day for multiple rounds of voting.
But convention supporters could not muster the three-fourths supermajority needed to change the bylaws. They did, however, have the simple majority needed to adjourn the meeting.
After spending about four hours on other internal party matters, the committee was poised to reconsider its December convention vote. That’s when pro-convention members abruptly moved to adjourn. The motion passed in a 39-to-38 vote, with state GOP Chairman Rich Anderson abstaining.
The move outraged members favoring a primary, who shouted at Anderson. “Mr. Chairman, please, be a man and vote. Otherwise step down,” one member, Cole Trower, shouted before a party official muted him.
If Anderson had voted not to adjourn, the motion would have failed in a tie, allowing the meeting to continue.
Anderson has said that as party chairman, he does not want to put his thumb on the scale on certain issues, although he has reserved the right to vote on those he considers important. He said the committee could take the matter up at another meeting, perhaps as soon as next weekend. But skeptics fear the pro-convention members will continue to delay it until it is too late to make a change.
Other Republican candidates for governor are Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) and retired Army colonel Sergio de la Peña. They are seeking to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who is prohibited by the state constitution from serving back-to-back terms.