Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, greeted voters at the polls during a firehouse primary in June, the results of which were later invalidated by GOP party leaders. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Disgruntled Republican voters in a suburban Richmond district have created at least two political action committees to drum up write-in votes for Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, who lost his party’s nomination earlier this year to Hanover County Supervisor Scott Wyatt.

One of the PACs, My Vote Matters Va, lists John Hopkins, Peace’s father-in-law, as its treasurer and custodian, according to paperwork filed with the Virginia Department of Elections. The PAC’s organizing document, filed Oct. 3, says its purpose is “to support ethical politicians.”

“I would think Chris Peace is a very ethical politician,” Hopkins said in an interview Thursday. “There are a lot of angry people in the 97th District over what happened.”

If there’s a significant split among GOP voters, the usually safe Republican seat could conceivably fall to Democrat Kevin Washington. With control of the General Assembly at stake and House Republicans trying to defend a paper-thin majority, the GOP can ill afford to lose the Hanover-anchored district that includes New Kent County and part of King William County.

A second PAC, Grassroots in Virginia, was created late last month by Peace supporter Ray Alexander. That committee’s paperwork states clearly that its purpose is to support Peace.

The organizers of both PACS said Peace is not involved in their efforts. Peace has publicly declared he is not a candidate for office, but he has not urged his supporters to drop the write-in effort and back Wyatt.

The emergence of the PACs shows the intra-GOP dispute over how the party chose its candidate is spilling off social media and into the real world of electioneering. Under Virginia law, anyone that expects to spend more than $200 to influence a state or local election must register a PAC.

Paperwork filed by the Grassroots in Virginia PAC says its goal is to support Republican Del. Chris Peace as a write-in candidate.
Paperwork filed by the Grassroots in Virginia PAC says its goal is to support Republican Del. Chris Peace as a write-in candidate.

In 2017, Peace won with 24,363 votes. His Democratic challenger that year, Cori Johnson, received 9,319 votes.

Alexander, who said he’s given out about 170 yard signs since starting his PAC, predicted that either Peace or Wyatt would win.

“One of them’s going to get most of the votes. Period. End of story,” Alexander said. “There’s just not enough Democratic votes in that area.”

Wyatt ousted Peace, a 13-year incumbent, largely by harnessing conservative anger over Peace’s vote to support Medicaid expansion in 2018. But the process was tainted by a bitter factional dispute over how Republicans chose their nominee. Two separate elections were held in the district, a convention backed by Wyatt and a firehouse primary backed by Peace. The Republican Party of Virginia ultimately backed the convention as the legitimate process, even though party Chairman Jack Wilson had publicly denounced it as invalid before voting began.

The Wyatt campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Though Peace’s supporters have touted him as a statesman unfairly cast out by hard-right conservatives, Wyatt’s supporters have characterized the incumbent as a sore loser who grew out-of-touch with his district.

Hanover GOP Chairman Nick Collette, who has urged Peace to denounce the write-in effort, said he doesn’t expect it to have a significant impact on the outcome.

“Scott’s the nominee. And we fully expect him to be successful on Nov. 5,” Collette said. “We’ll worry about the rest of it after the election.”

Hopkins said his PAC is a “very low-budgeted group”

“We’re doing our own stuff,” he said. “We’re printing our own paper. Making signs. People themselves are doing the work.”

Peace said he has not discussed the PAC with his father-in-law.

“I can only imagine that he is disappointed in the choices he has having dedicated a lifetime to the commonwealth and its progress,” Peace said.

Peace suggested the development could have something to do with the Hanover Republican Committee removing his wife, Ashley Hopkins Peace, from the local party after she said she would write in her husband’s name.

“She’s a daddy’s girl,” Peace said. “And we still have a great marriage.”