RICHMOND, Va. – (WMAL) In what could be considered a blow to more conservative, anti-establishment candidates, GOP leaders in Virginia have voted 41-40 to choose the party’s nominees in 2017 statewide elections, Governor included, through a primary process instead of a convention. It will be the first time since 2005 a primary has been used in statewide elections.
“The good thing about primaries is that they’re very inclusive,” Virginia GOP Chairman John Whitbeck tells WMAL. “They have the ability to bring in hundreds of thousands.”
The drawback, he says, is the possibility of Democrats meddling in the process, as the open primary laws don’t exclude non-Republicans.
“(Primaries) allow candidates to get their ground game going and test out their strategies for knocking doors and advertising and everything digital,” Whitbeck says.
The conventional wisdom among Republicans was a primary benefits the ‘establishment’ and may bring about a more palatable candidate for a general election, while a convention favors a more conservative, anti-establishment figure thanks to its smaller but more passionate turnout.
Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart, also a candidate for Governor, tells WMAL he originally subscribed to that wisdom but has since changed his stance.
“I think there were a lot of establishment Republicans who thought they were doing me a tremendous disservice by giving us a primary,” he says. “For me personally, this is a very good thing. I’ve got a lot of name recognition throughout the state, and name recognition is everything in a primary.”
Stewart attributes his widespread recognition to his other position as chairman of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign in Virginia.
Whitbeck says he would have preferred a convention, but doesn’t think the close vote was emblematic of further division in the party.
“Everything was scrambled in 2016. Nobody can define what establishment is,” he says. “We have to throw that word out. It really doesn’t exist in the sense of the Republican Party. That establishments versus grassroots battle is over.”
Copyright 2016 by WMAL.com. All Rights Reserved. (PHOTO: Jack Dempsey/AP/file)