RICHMOND — Five of the seven Republicans running for Virginia governor appeared this week at a Baptist church in Lynchburg, where each had the chance to lay out a vision for leading their long-suffering party to victory in November.

The candidate forum, hosted by the Liberty University College Republicans chapter Monday night at a church across the street from campus, took place less than three weeks before the state party’s May 8 nominating convention.

Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) told the audience that his 30 years in the House of Delegates, including two as speaker, give him unmatched know-how — on defeating Democrats’ gun-control and abortion rights bills as speaker, and on winning in a racially diverse suburban district after a federal court redrew the lines two years ago.

“You need proven electability,” he said. “We cannot afford one-party control any longer. Who’s actually done it? Who can get votes in [Northern Virginia] and Hampton Roads?”

Cox was an outlier with that argument, as everyone else on the stage pitched themselves as political outsiders. That included state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), who has been in the legislature since 2016 but on the outs with most of her Senate Republican colleagues for much of that time.

She touted her “backbone of steel” and nicknames: “Trump in heels” and “Annie Oakley,” the latter for her habit of wearing a weapon on her hip on the Senate floor. She bragged about her censure by the Senate this year, in part because she praised the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol as “patriots.” And she boasted of her refusal to wear a mask when participating in Senate floor sessions.

“We need a political outsider who knows how the General Assembly works,” said Chase, who made note of her recent endorsement from Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, and said she was traveling to Florida this weekend to seek Trump’s endorsement.

Glenn Youngkin, a former Carlyle Group co-chief executive, billed himself as an experienced executive who has led a company that manages assets four times the size of Virginia’s budget. But he also presented himself as the political clean slate he thinks is needed for a party that has not won a statewide election since 2009.

“We want something different,” he said. “The Republican Party over the last 12 years has figured out how to lose.”

At the same time, Youngkin said that if he is elected governor, he would want Cox, as a retired teacher and veteran legislator, as his education secretary.

“I think Kirk Cox is amazingly talented,” Youngkin said. “And I want to tell everybody that if I am fortunate enough to go work for you as your governor, I would love to have him involved in our administration working as secretary of education.”

The line drew applause from the crowd. It was not clear how Cox, who took a well-timed swig of water once Youngkin spoke his name, felt about it. Cox did not respond in the forum. Youngkin has made similar comments before, and Cox has said publicly that he would like Youngkin to serve in his administration as secretary of commerce and trade.

The praise could be tactical — a way for both candidates to curry favor with the other’s supporters. That’s important in a nominating convention with ranked-choice voting, where the winner will have to win over voters who backed other candidates as their first choice.

Other Republicans seeking the nomination are retired Army Col. Sergio de la Peña, former think tank executive Peter Doran, businessman Pete Snyder and former Roanoke sheriff Octavia Johnson.

Snyder and Johnson did not attend, saying they had previous commitments.

Doran promised to make Virginia “the best” in schools, public safety and jobs — and to phase out the state income tax.

De la Peña, a Mexican immigrant who rose to a prominent Pentagon post under Trump, pitched himself as someone who could attract Hispanics and Asian immigrants to the party. But his big-tent approach went only so far. When asked about how he would fully reopen schools shut down because of the coronavirus, he blamed China for the pandemic and took a swipe at Chinese students studying in the United States.

“Guess who’s opened up their schools already. How ’bout China? Who created the problem? China,” he said. “When we talk about slick countries that know how to use communism to their benefit, we’re talking about China. And look at how these students are in the United States that are from China.”

John Massoud, the GOP’s 6th Congressional District chairman, introduced the group by repeating Trump’s false claim that Democrats stole the 2020 election.

“As I’m sure you all know, something very near and dear was stolen from us,” he said. “And there’s exactly one thing we can do — turn out in such overwhelming numbers that their greatest ability to cheat will be beaten and thrown back at their faces.”