LISTEN: Battle for Virginia GOP Shapes Up Ahead of 2017 Gov. Race


Steve Burns

RICHMOND – (WMAL) Divides within the Republican party are moving to the state level in Virginia, where differing levels of conservative candidates are lining up to succeed Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2017. Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced he will not be in the running, while Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart is throwing his hat in the ring. Both announcements came over the weekend at the state’s GOP Convention.

Cuccinelli, formerly an unsuccessful candidate for governor and current surrogate for the Ted Cruz campaign, said another campaign would be too taxing on his family. Stewart, Donald Trump’s Virginia chairman, said the state is tired of “boring” Republican candidates like former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who is also set to run for the Republican nomination.

“(Gillespie) is wimpy. He’s very, very weak. He doesn’t fight. People can see that. He’s not a fighter, and frankly, he’s just boring,” Stewart told WMAL. “I put into place the nation’s toughest crackdown on illegal immigration. I’m not a shrinking violet. I love to fight. I’ve got the track record, and I’m going to win.”

Stewart said the “non-establishment era” as embodied by Trump’s rise would work in favor of his campaign and against Gillespie’s. “(Voters) are not going to have any patience for a boring, establishment guy like Ed Gillespie.”

Cuccinelli’s news came as no surprise to Stewart. “Over the years he has really become part of the establishment, and he couldn’t win in a year that he was supposed to. I wasn’t all that fearful of him in the first place.”

“With Cuccinelli out of the Governor’s race this time around, it seems likely that Republicans will compete for the mantle of the conservative alternative to Gillespie,” said University of Mary Washington political analyst Stephen Farnsworth. Their chances in 2017 depend largely on 2016, Farnsworth said. “If the party does well in elections in 2016 nationally and in Virginia, I think that’ll make a more compelling case for the conservative candidate. But if the party doesn’t do well, there may be more willingness to support a more moderate candidate.”

Farnsworth noted the Virginia GOP has been in a “drought,” coming up on the losing end of the last two Senate elections and last three statewide races. “No doubt about it. The Republican Party nationally and the Republican Party of Virginia is going through something of an identity crisis,” he said.

The fact that the Republican gubernatorial nominee is chosen through a convention and not a primary may play a big part as well.

“The several thousand people who go to a convention are likely to be the most committed, the most ideologically intense Republicans,” Farnsworth said. Stewart believes the process should stay exactly as is.

“There are those behind Mr. Gillespie who are trying to switch that over to a primary because they think that Mr. Gillespie is a member of the establishment and would do better in a primary,” Stewart said. “But it’s supposed to be a convention. In a convention I will demolish him. In a primary, I will still beat him.”

In a statement to WMAL, Chris Leavitt, the Executive Director of Gillespie’s Let’s Grow, Virginia PAC, said “We are not involved in the nominating process. We have lots of supporters in both the convention and primary camps and we are happy to play by whatever rules the state party sets.”

Copyright 2016 by All Rights Reserved. (PHOTO: Corey Stewart/Facebook)

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