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‘Outsider businessman’ and ‘Trump in heels’: Virginia’s Republican convention proving chaotic

One of the most chaotic campaigns in Virginia history culminates Saturday when the Republican Party hosts its gubernatorial nominating convention, which analysts expect to be an indicator of where the party is headed after the Trump presidency.

Seven Republicans are seeking the top nomination, six are running for lieutenant governor and four are candidates for attorney general. The method of choosing the nominees is what the party calls an “unassembled convention,” a pandemic innovation that has more than 50,000 delegates registered to vote at nearly 40 sites across the state.

Although he hasn’t weighed in, former President Donald Trump looms large. Candidates are vying for the support of his former top aides and fighting over who is best able to channel his politics and policies.

Political analyst J. Miles Coleman said private equity professional Glenn Youngkin “is probably the closest thing there is to a front-runner right now.”

“In terms of signing up delegates for the convention, I’ve been told he’s clearly ahead of the others,” Mr. Coleman told The Washington Times this week. “Another reason, perhaps more broadly, is that his profile — that of an outsider businessman — has played well [with] today’s Republican electorate: candidates such as Trump.”

The wild-card candidate is state Sen. Amanda Chase, who bills herself as “Trump in heels” and has had a rocky relationship with the state’s Republican establishment. She even pondered an independent bid for governor.

Mr. Coleman said Ms. Chase’s chances could get a boost if the former president gives her a late endorsement like he did last weekend for Susan Wright, who won a spot in a Texas runoff race for a U.S. House seat.

Ms. Chase told The Washington Times on Thursday that she will run as an independent if social media mogul Pete Snyder wins the nomination.

“Pete Snyder’s campaign has paid staffers who are unit chairs, and unit chairs are the ones who receive the delegate forms from all the campaigns. It’s a complete conflict of interest,” Ms. Chase said during a phone interview. “They have the ability to alert the campaigns that certain campaigns are dropping off a certain number of delegate forms. It just looks bad, and it’s just a complete overstep.”

Ms. Chase, a two-term legislator who represents Chesterfield, was censured by the state Senate this year after she said those who attended the pro-Trump rally before the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection were “patriots.”

She has the support of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and says she is running for governor to ensure election integrity, Second Amendment rights and lower taxes.

Mr. Snyder has backing from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Trump press secretary and candidate for Arkansas governor. The small-business owner said he is running to help get Virginia out of “a horrible mess.”

“I will prioritize rebuilding our economy, opening our schools, supporting our brave men and women in law enforcement, and defending the rights and values that have made America exceptional,” Mr. Snyder said in an email this week.

Mr. Youngkin told The Times this week that he wants to “get our economy moving again, crank up the job machine, lower the cost of living by lowering taxes, and cut red tape.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a close ally of Mr. Trump, has endorsed Mr. Youngkin. He joined the candidate on the campaign trail Thursday.

Rounding out the top-level candidates is Delegate Kirk Cox, who served as Virginia House speaker until Republicans lost control of the chamber in the 2019 elections.

Mr. Cox doesn’t boast the backing of major Trump team figures but said his conservative track record speaks for itself.

“There are two things delegates should think about going into the convention: who has a conservative record, and who can win. I have proven my conservative credentials each day that I’ve served in the House of Delegates,” Mr. Cox said in an email this week.

The retired schoolteacher said the havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic wrought on student learning is a major issue for the next governor.

The candidates are aiming to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat. In Virginia, a governor cannot serve consecutive terms. The last Republican to win the governor’s mansion was Bob McDonnell in 2009.

Though the state has been trending blue in national and statewide elections in recent years, analysts say Republicans could be competitive this year, depending on who wins the nomination.

With that in mind, the Republican Party of Virginia is using ranked-choice voting to pick nominees for the first time ever. If no candidate gains an outright majority of first choice ballots, then the field will be winnowed. Second, third or subsequent choices will be tallied until a winner is determined.

Mr. Cox has explicitly asked voters who don’t put him first to make him their second choice.

Complicating the math are three candidates who analysts say are long shots.

Peter Doran calls himself a “conservative outsider.” He said reopening schools is his main priority, but he also wants to support police funding and phase out the state’s income tax.

Former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson, the first Black Virginian and the first woman to hold that job, didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Times. Her website outlines her support for gun rights, voter integrity and school choice.

Retired Army Col. Sergio de la Pena, a Trump appointee at the Pentagon, said this week that he “came from a home with dirt floors and no running water.”

“I am the only candidate who can win Virginia because the liberals can’t cancel me, can’t keep me from winning minority votes and can’t stop my conservative message,” Mr. de la Pena said.

He said he opposes gun control and illegal immigration and wants tighter election integrity laws.

Indeed, fears of mischief are running high after last year’s elections, and the state party has worked to try to address the worries.

Convention voting takes place Saturday, with drive-up balloting in more populous areas. Ballots will be driven to a central location in Richmond, where counting by hand will begin Sunday. Officials expect the counting to last at least a few days.

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