Vice President Pence will headline a high-dollar fundraiser in McLean on Wednesday for Virginia Republicans, who are trying to keep their fragile majority in the state legislature in November.
Although Republicans running for office in Virginia have sometimes shied away from President Trump, who is unpopular in the state, Pence made repeated visits during the 2018 midterms.
Virginia Republicans are aiming to capitalize on scandals that have snared the state’s top three elected officials, all of whom are Democrats.
“Their hope is, this is the first election since 2016 that really isn’t about Donald Trump,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime Richmond political analyst. “I think Republicans believe they can shift the narrative here to the mess with the statewide [Democratic] officeholders.”
The state House and Senate — which Republicans control by two seats apiece — are the only legislative chambers in the country up for grabs this fall.
But House Democrats see the upcoming Pence event as an opportunity to raise money for themselves, using Trump as a galvanizing force in the only Southern state won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Fifty-nine percent of Virginia voters disapprove of the job the president is doing, according to a February Quinnipiac University poll.
“Don’t let Trump do this,” House Democrats say in the subject line of one fundraising email. “Donald Trump is sending his right hand man, Vice President Mike Pence, to do a huge fundraiser to support Virginia Republicans. . . . [T]hey’ve been asking Donald Trump to come bail them out with big money.”
And on Twitter, the Democratic Party of Virginia used emoji moneybags as it warned of the “glitzy fundraiser.”
“If it wasn’t clear already, VA GOP is ALL IN with disastrous @realDonaldTrump Administration agenda,” the tweet said.
The Republican Party of Virginia shot back on Twitter with, “We stand with @realDonaldTrump & @mike_pence. Can you say the same for YOUR elected officials? (We’re talking about @RalphNortham, @FairfaxJustin, & @MarkHerringVA in case you forgot.)”
Pence will appear at the McLean home of C. Daniel Clemente, a Tysons lawyer and real estate developer who has given about $163,000 to candidates for state offices since 1996. Clemente has donated to both political parties, roughly twice as much to Republicans as Democrats.
But the single biggest recipient of his largesse was a Democrat, now-Rep. Don Beyer (Va.). Clemente donated $35,000 to his unsuccessful run for governor in 1997, when Beyer was lieutenant governor.
Clemente said his decision to host the Pence fundraiser had nothing to do with the scandals surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, who admitted to wearing blackface as young men, or Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has denied accusations by two women that he sexually assaulted them.
Clemente said he has been turned off lately by “far left” figures such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who are both running for president, and “that Cortez lady,” meaning freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). But he remains a bipartisan donor.
“I would support anybody that is reasonable in the way they think,” Clemente said. “I vote for people of integrity. I don’t care what party they’re in.”
“I wrote a check to Don Beyer recently, and I wrote a check to Gerry Connolly recently,” he added, referring to another Democratic congressman from Virginia.
Tickets start at $500 a head and rise to $10,000 for the highest sponsorship level, which includes two tickets to a VIP roundtable discussion with Pence and six for a reception and photo opportunity with the vice president.
Virginia election law allows unlimited campaign contributions. Fine print on the invitation makes clear that Pence, as a federal officeholder, will appear “only as a featured speaker,” and that funds were being solicited by the House and Senate GOP caucuses, not by Pence.