Virginia GOP Governor's Race: Convention Process Is Tricky For months, Republicans have cast doubt on the 2020 presidential election. Now GOP candidates for Virginia governor take issue with their own party-run nominating convention.
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For Virginia Republicans, Running Their Own Election Hasn't Gone Smoothly

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For Virginia Republicans, Running Their Own Election Hasn't Gone Smoothly

For Virginia Republicans, Running Their Own Election Hasn't Gone Smoothly

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/992156839/992670222" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For months now, many Republicans have cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, and now that election has even become an issue in a primary to choose a Republican candidate for governor in Virginia. As Ben Paviour from member station VPM reports, that process is not going smoothly.

BEN PAVIOUR, BYLINE: Amanda Chase looks at home at this Republican rally at a farm outside Richmond. There's the cowboy boots and the American flag handbag where she keeps her gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMANDA CHASE: How many of you are ready for a new governor?

(APPLAUSE)

PAVIOUR: Chase is competing with six other GOP candidates for the executive mansion. She's been outspoken with false claims about last year's elections.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHASE: I refuse to back down because I openly said the 2020 presidential election was stolen because it was.

PAVIOUR: Chase and the other GOP candidates argue that voters have lost trust in elections. But this time, Republicans can run their own election. That's because Virginia allows parties to choose between state-run primaries and party-run conventions. The GOP's top committee spent months debating the issue on Zoom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHASE: Is someone talking? Because I don't want to take time away from somebody who's talking out of line.

PAVIOUR: Finally, in March, the committee settled on a statewide convention. It'll happen next Saturday at around 40 locations because of COVID restrictions. It was a decision that infuriated Chase.

CHASE: This whole process, this convention - and people know this was - designed to try to derail my candidacy.

PAVIOUR: Chase and other convention critics say it gives too much power to a small group of GOP insiders and the candidates connected to them. The self-described Trump in heels unsuccessfully sued the party and has threatened to run as an independent if she believes the results are suspect.

GLENN YOUNGKIN: I have great sympathy for Amanda Chase.

PAVIOUR: This is Glenn Youngkin's first run for office. He says the dithering has complicated his gubernatorial campaign.

YOUNGKIN: This is all new to me, but to see the to's and fro's (ph) and the inability to just make a decision and get on with it - I've said the whole time, you guys pick the process, give me the rules, and then we're going to go win it.

PAVIOUR: The party has continued to fight over convention details. Last week, they debated whether to allow observant Jews to vote early ahead of the Saturday election. Thomas Turner, chair of Virginia's Young Republicans, was furious the topic was even up for debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS TURNER: Let them vote. We talk about voter integrity, and we're trying to suppress the vote. This is exactly what this is.

PAVIOUR: Turner's argument eventually won the day. Rich Anderson, who chairs the state party, says that was the right move. He says the whole stolen election rhetoric from last year may have made his life a little more difficult, but he's not complaining.

RICH ANDERSON: Sometimes people say to me because of the contention, hey, Rich, how are you doing? Well, I'm doing fine. These are words flying. This is not hot lead.

PAVIOUR: Anderson calls himself a primary guy, and he knows staging a statewide convention is not easy.

ANDERSON: We have selected a very complex process that's logistically gargantuan.

PAVIOUR: Still, convention advocates argue it's the best way to weed out Democratic voters. Anderson says they'll end up with candidates with broad support, people who can break the GOP's decade-long losing streak in Virginia. Former Congressman Denver Riggleman is skeptical.

DENVER RIGGLEMAN: It's just [expletive] - all of it.

PAVIOUR: Riggleman was unseated by his own party in a GOP convention last year. He says the process makes feudal lords out of Republican officials who shape key rules.

RIGGLEMAN: And the convention is about disenfranchising as many voters as possible, which seems to be the GOP way lately.

PAVIOUR: University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says the convention fights are a symptom of a larger problem.

LARRY SABATO: The pieces and factions of this state party are simply reflecting the kind of paranoia we're seeing from the Trump national party.

PAVIOUR: Sabato says the distrust Trump planted will be difficult for the party to dislodge. The issue of trust is part of Saturday's convention. Virginia Republicans are hiring private security to monitor their ballots, which could take several days to count.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Paviour in Richmond.

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