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Virginia GOP rejects primaries, settles on weird nominating process

Virginia Republicans, already in an electoral hole, won't hold statewide primaries this year. They're instead holding a drive-thru convention at Liberty U.
Students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, congregate while walking around on March 31, 2020.Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / AFP - Getty Images file

In the not-too-distant past, Republicans had plenty of reasons to see Virginia as a GOP stronghold. In 1992 and 1996, for example, Bill Clinton, who won two national elections with ease, lost the commonwealth twice. Similarly, in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush won Virginia twice, and neither contest was especially close.

Throughout this era, Republicans dominated most of Virginia's congressional delegation, and enjoyed sizable majorities in the state legislature. Virginia was, for all intents and purposes, "red."

Arguably no state has changed more over the last 15 years than Virginia, where Republicans haven't won a statewide election since 2009. Democrats now control the governor's office, the lieutenant governor's office, the attorney general's office, the state legislature, and most of the congressional delegation. At the presidential level, the Democrats' national ticket has won four of the last four elections -- with Biden nearly winning the commonwealth by double digits.

Clearly, the Republican Party of Virginia has some work to do if it's going to help make the state competitive again, and with elections slated for this fall -- Virginia is one of only a couple of states that will hold statewide races in 2021 -- the GOP at least has a chance to make gains.

But this year, the party is off to a rough start. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported overnight:

After months of disagreement, the Virginia Republican Party's governing body agreed Tuesday night on a method to nominate statewide candidates for the November election. They'll hold a drive-up convention May 8 on the campus of Liberty University.... The convention at Liberty, the Christian university well known for its affiliations with conservative causes, is to be held at 9 a.m. Republicans said convention delegates will be able to stay in their cars the entire time, possibly listening to proceedings on a radio broadcast.

This is a flawed plan.

Let's back up for a minute. The state GOP had already voted four times -- before last night -- on how to choose their 2021 candidates. But as the New York Times recently explained, "in a sign of the Trumpian times," many Virginia Republicans simply refused to accept the outcome and kept the fight going. The article added, "Just a month after former President Donald J. Trump left office, Virginia's drama is the first state-level boomerang of his legacy. Some state Republicans have internalized the lesson that there is no benefit to accepting results they don't like, and the result is a paralyzed party."

Last night, the dispute was apparently resolved: on May 8, delegates to the Republican convention will choose candidates by driving to Liberty University, an evangelical school founded by the late TV preacher Jerry Falwell. Participants will then submit a ballot through a drive-through system, with their choices ranked by preference, so additional rounds of voting wouldn't be needed.

There will be no alternative ways of participating in the process. Proposals to have voting locations throughout Virginia were rejected.

You don't need to be a political scientist to recognize some of the problems. For example, Virginia is a pretty large state, with a total area of over 40,000 square miles. Expecting Republicans from every part of Virginia to attend a faux convention at one location on one day will likely pose some logistical challenges.

And those who don't have a car are apparently out of luck.

As for Virginia Democrats, the party's voters will participate in a statewide primary on June 8. Election Day is in 36 weeks.

* Update: While local reports overnight said Liberty University endorsed the Republican Party's drive-through convention plan, the school is now clarifying that Liberty "has not agreed" to any specific plan.