Both the Democratic and Republican parties had women formidably positioned to challenge their parties’ historically patriarchal systems.
The closest any woman has gotten to her own four-year lease on the Executive Mansion was Democrat Mary Sue Terry. She was Virginia’s first female attorney general when she launched her 1993 gubernatorial bid and was strongly favored over George Allen, then an obscure Republican former congressman. Terry’s campaign floundered, Allen won in a rout, and no woman has won a statewide elective office since.
This year, however, there was a profusion of female candidates to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam.
In the GOP, state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), a confrontational populist who praised those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as “patriots” and calls herself “Trump in heels,” seemed well-positioned. With former president Donald Trump’s loyalists behind her, securing a plurality necessary to win a primary presented a low bar for her.
The Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee opted instead for a convention to pick the 2021 statewide GOP ticket. That meant that rather than finish as the leading vote-getter in a primary, Chase would have to hold a majority of delegate votes (50 percent plus one) to win a convention.
Realizing that her chances would suffer in the convention’s murky and convoluted processes, Chase challenged RPV’s decision in a lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court. She was unsuccessful.
When Republicans gather on Saturday in more than three dozen sites statewide for this year’s “unassembled convention,” they will use a process by which delegates rank their first, second, third choices, etc., on one ballot rather casting successive ballots to narrow the field. Chase probably will not secure a majority of first-choice votes, and she is unlikely to be anyone’s second choice. No wonder she challenged the process. It sure looks rigged against her.
The process thus favors three men heading toward the convention: wealthy newcomer Glenn Youngkin, wealthy GOP long-timer Pete Snyder and former House speaker Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights). Snyder and Youngkin have raised $6.8 million and $7.6 million, respectively. Cox has raised slightly more than $1 million, and Chase reported slightly less than $800,000 on hand as of April 1.
The Democrats have their most diverse gubernatorial field ever. Three of the five candidates on the Democratic Primary ballot are Black, and two of them are women named Jennifer.
State Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan is a respected, longtime party standard-bearer in the General Assembly who represented a Richmond-based district for 12 years in the state House before moving to the state Senate in 2018. Former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy left her Prince William-based state House seat after just one term last year to run full time for governor. Either would become the first woman of color elected to statewide office in Virginia.
They announced their campaigns in a year when the appeal of diversity was never stronger within the Democratic Party. People of all races shared outrage over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax seeks to become Virginia’s second Black governor after Douglas Wilder. The other two Democratic candidates are White men: Del. Lee Carter (Manassas), a former Marine and self-described socialist in his second House term; and former governor Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe’s announcement late last year that he wanted his old job back immediately changed everything about the primary.
One of the most prolific fundraisers in American politics, McAuliffe raised $4.1 million in the first three months of 2021, and had $8.5 million in his campaign treasury as of March 31. By contrast, his four primary rivals combined raised just under $2.7 million in the first quarter and reported just under $2.9 million on hand.
Polling is scant in the narrow universe of an off-off-year primary. A Public Policy Polling survey released April 13 showed that 42 percent of likely primary voters backed McAuliffe, with Carroll Foy and McClellan tied for second at 8 percent each. Seven percent backed Fairfax and 4 percent supported Carter. Twenty-nine percent were undecided.
If the money and polling data are indicative, Virginia may have to wait for its first female chief executive.