The Bulletin

Three former GOP governors urge party to pick 2021 nominees via canvass

By: - February 23, 2021 4:31 pm

Virginia just launched its new Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, aimed at overseeing the state’s child welfare system. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Three former Republican governors of Virginia have teamed up to try to help their party resolve a bitter internal battle over how to pick its slate of 2021 nominees.

On Tuesday, former Govs. Bob McDonnell, George Allen and Jim Gilmore sent a letter addressed to Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson and members of the party’s State Central Committee urging a solution to the procedural impasse that has thrown the start of the 2021 contests into confusion.

With various factions arguing over whether the party should hold a primary, canvass or convention, the three ex-governors are proposing a party-run canvass as the most workable nominating method. The State Central Committee has repeatedly voted against holding a primary, but its members are scheduled to meet again Tuesday night to try to decide between a canvass or a convention.

In the future, they wrote, the party must do a better job of choosing its process early, “independently of any specific candidate or faction.”

“For today, we respectfully implore you, for those candidates who might wish to follow in our footsteps as statewide elected officials, to end the stalemate, select a canvass and unite to win in November,” the three governors wrote in the letter obtained by the Mercury.

Unlike a state-run primary, the method chosen by Democrats for 2021, a canvass, also known as a firehouse primary, allows the GOP to pick its own voting sites and exclude anyone who doesn’t sign a party loyalty pledge. Unlike an assembled convention, it would potentially allow the party to avoid any trouble with trying to hold a large gathering while COVID-19 crowd restrictions are still in effect. A canvass also allows ranked-choice voting, a system meant to ensure the person with the broadest support is nominated.

Depending on how many voting sites and party organizers are needed, a canvass could be more expensive than a statewide convention held at one location.

As ex officio members of the central committee, the three governors said it had been “disheartening” to watch the indecision, adding that it’s “imperative” for Tuesday’s meeting to bring finality.

“In addition to the unwanted public attention on this issue, it has handicapped our talented pool of statewide candidates from effectively implementing their campaign strategies,” the governors wrote. “We need to nominate our very best candidates to fight for our principles in what will be a tough fall election cycle for our team.”

Allen and McDonnell have both endorsed former House Speaker Kirk Cox for governor, but their letter didn’t mention Cox and was presented as general advice for how the party could resolve the problem.

Cox is competing for the gubernatorial nomination with Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield,  businessmen Glenn Youngkin and Pete Snyder, former think tank CEO Peter Doran and ex-Defense official Sergio de la Peña.

Virginia Republicans also have contested races for attorney general and lieutenant governor.

The nominees for all three statewide offices will be selected by whatever process the party eventually chooses. Anderson, the GOP chairman, has said if the party can’t agree on a solution, it’s possible the State Central Committee will have to pick the nominees on its own.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]