State GOP leaders fear Chase might be face of the party

December 10, 2020 12:02 am

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

It’s obvious the state Republican Party has little faith the bulk of its followers will — as the saying goes — “do the right thing.”

Why else would the leadership get twisted up in knots during debate about its gubernatorial nominating process for 2021, all so it could hamper state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Trumpville?

Actually, she’s from Chesterfield. But Chase paints herself as among the (soon-to-be-former) president’s most loyal officials in the commonwealth. Some of her actions and comments even mimic Donald Trump’s acerbic, fact-free persona, as well: Spouting lies about election fraud in the commonwealth. Opposing measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Claiming state Democrats “hate white people.”

Those traits had members of the GOP’s State Central Committee suffering a case of the vapors this past weekend. The majority of them opted for a convention instead of the more inclusive, democratic choice for a primary.

Chase condemned the decision. She’s threatening to run as an independent, a move that could be political suicide.

If she follows through, Chase will ultimately drain votes from whoever is the Republican nominee. That would practically ensure Democrats maintain their winning streak in statewide contests, which dates to 2009 and is a continuing source of angst for GOP honchos.

“I’m disappointed that they would choose to disenfranchise the people of Virginia,” Chase told me by phone Tuesday. Conventions are more time-consuming, require dedicated voters to travel to a single place in the state, and can include costs for hotels and food.

“It’s a confusing process,” Chase added.

Primaries, on the other hand, are simpler to participate in, with voters going to their nearby polling place. There’s no daylong commitment, either.

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I agree with Sen. Chase — on this issue, at least.

Primaries are fairer. They don’t hew just to the party faithful, insiders, and lovers of arcane parliamentary procedures. Democrats have held primaries for statewide elections since 2001, a party spokesman told me, even when the races for governor were uncontested.

I understand why many Republican officials blanch at Chase’s candidacy. They fear that in a primary, she could garner a plurality of voters, especially if several other contenders jump in. Del. Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, a former speaker of the House, and Chase are the only Republicans officially in the contest. Others, however, are exploring a potential run and are politically closer to Cox.

The conventional wisdom goes that if Chase wins the party bid, the eventual Democratic nominee would clobber the far-right Republican in the general election. That’s a reasonable conclusion given the recent electoral history in the commonwealth.

Donald Trump lost Virginia both in 2016 (against Hillary Clinton) and this year (against Joe Biden). In a purple state turning increasingly blue, many Republicans want a nominee who’s not on the thinnest edge of their party’s spectrum.

Nor is this gamesmanship by the parties unusual.

“I’ve heard this debate about primary versus convention since I got involved in politics, beginning in the 1960s,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told me by email. “It is all situational, and parties choose the method most likely to nominate the candidate preferred by the top brass — who is naturally viewed by the party elites as more likely to win the general election.

“That is an assumption that can be very wrong.”

Sabato added that it’s difficult to unite a party when it’s been on the losing side consistently. Different factions present different paths to victory, which may not be correct.

Here’s what I don’t understand: Why do state GOP leaders fear Chase would ultimately win a primary? Republican voters can assess which candidate offers the best platform — and which has the best shot in the general election. Chase has attracted the spotlight over the past year, spouting maxims that thrill supporters but alienate others.

For example, Chase noted last month: “I believe there’s been an attempt by the Democrats to steal this election from President Donald Trump.” That was nonsense, and it was a sop to a man whose hubris has taken a beating since his clear defeat, in both the popular and electoral vote.

Besides, it’s going to be a heavy lift for whomever the GOP gubernatorial nominee is, given the recent string of Democratic Party victories and the huge influence Northern Virginia voters hold in statewide contests. Does the GOP leadership really want to invite narratives of party bossism?

I asked Chase whether her dalliance as an independent candidate means she’ll leave the GOP. She said no.

“My values line up with the Republican Party,” she said, but added, “Those in the Republican leadership are out of touch” with the rank and file.

Chase could be right. But as she assails the leadership over the nominating process, she risks destroying the foundation that’s provided her the biggest megaphone.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]