In Virginia, it’s easy to divide state Republicans into two groups. Most would draw some sort of line between the grassroots and the establishment — say, the Tea Party versus GOP loyalists — and those types of designations are indeed helpful.
But the most useful dichotomy might be this one: One group of Virginia conservatives advocates using the primary process to choose nominees; the other advocates nominating conventions.
That’s a fairly wonky distinction, but it helps clarify the rift in Virginia’s GOP politics that helped pave the way to a once-inconceivable outcome: Governor Terry McAuliffe. It’s a rift that is deep, persistent, and very problematic for future conservative victories in the state.
It’s a proxy war, but a messy and important one — important not only to Old Dominion politics nerds, but also to anyone who’s interested in Mark Warner’s Senate seat or the state’s Electoral College votes in 2016. Virginia is a big deal. Therefore Virginia Republicans are a big deal. And, therefore, an insurmountable rift could have national implications.
At least, that’s the view from just north of the Potomac. Not everyone sees it that way. Rick Boyer, a homeschooling father, Liberty University graduate, longtime conservative activist in the Old Dominion, and chair of the Republican party in the state’s 22nd congressional district, says he’s not especially interested in intraparty reconciliation just yet.
“If you can’t mount a statewide campaign to win the party nomination, why do you think you can mount a statewide campaign to beat the Democrats?” he [Linwood Cobb, the GOP chairman in the seventh congressional district] asks.
The brewing conflict came to a head when a coalition of tea partiers, libertarians, social conservatives, and other grassroots activists organized to take over the Republican Party of Virginia State Central Committee (usually called State Central) in 2012 and then voted to have a nominating convention instead of a primary.
The race for Republican representative Frank Wolf’s old seat in Northern Virginia should be a bellwether for whether the two sides will coalesce behind one candidate. Bobbie Kilberg, a long-time Republican operative and president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, expects the race to be revealing.
“The business community and centrists have not asserted their clout, and it’s time they did so,” she says. “Once they do so, you’ll have a conversation from strength about the direction of the party that would include all sides. So it will be a very interesting year.”
Not that much on the line, just a U.S. Senate seat and the possibility of keeping Virginia purple.