Area GOP Figures In Key Vote
Valley Residents Help Give Convention OK
Posted: November 30, 2012
HARRISONBURG — Three Shenandoah Valley residents took part in what’s become a decisive vote toward shaping the 2013 race for governor.
When the Republican State Central Committee voted 47-31 in June to switch from an open primary election to a convention to select nominees for statewide office, it set off an intraparty debate that came to a head this week.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a primary supporter, ended his campaign Wednesday for the GOP nomination against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is considered more popular among the conservative party faithful who will likely serve as delegates to next year’s convention.
The central committee, with many new, pro-Cuccinelli members, voted for the convention this summer, reversing a previous vote for a primary. Bolling said the switch created “too many obstacles” for his campaign to overcome.
That clears the way for Cuccinelli to secure the nomination.
Harrisonburg and Rockingham County do not have any members on the state central committee, but Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, sits on it. The 24th Senate District he represents includes a portion of Rockingham County.
Augusta County resident Georgia Alvis-Long and Suzanne Curran of Mount Jackson also are on the panel.
“I always will vote for conventions,” Alvis-Long said. “Conventions make it so where it’s more party-affiliated.”
She added that they also save taxpayers money. Curran, a convention advocate, said a primary can cost up to $3 million.
“That’s just money I don’t approve of,” she said.
A bill requiring political parties to pay for primaries failed to pass a House of Delegates subcommittee during the 2012 session of the General Assembly. According to the bill, localities would save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” by shifting costs onto the parties.
Curran said conventions also prevent people from crossing party lines to vote for the other party’s “weakest candidate.”
Moreover, they get people “fired up,” she said.
“If you have a great convention and everybody there you know shares your beliefs, it’s just a big rallying cry to be carried out on a wave [to the general election],” Curran said.
Hanger could not be reached for comment.
Each locality’s Republican committee will select delegates for the convention, which is scheduled for May 18 in Richmond.
“There’s pluses and minuses about both nominating systems,” said Tracy Evans, chairman of the Harrisonburg Republican Committee. “I don’t think either way is a bad way, to be honest with you.”
Attorney General’s Race
Attorney general candidates Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, are also affected by the state committee’s decision. Neither, though, will back out of the race because of the planned method for choosing the nominee, and both are actively asking supporters to serve as delegates.
At the time of the vote, though, Bob Roberts, a political science professor at James Madison University, gave Obenshain the edge in a convention setting. He said Obenshain is more recognizable statewide, in part because his father, Richard, helped build the party in the 1970s.
Obenshain, in officially kicking off his campaign this week, noted his family history, but added that a candidate won’t “get anywhere” relying on the past.
Dems Favor Primary
The Democratic Party’s State Central Committee voted in September to hold a primary election to choose its candidates for statewide offices.
Northern Virginia businessman Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, with a strong connection to former President Bill Clinton, is his party’s only announced candidate for governor so far.
Former Harrisonburg Mayor Joe Fitzgerald, a member of the Democratic committee, said a “mainstream” candidate, such as Bolling, would not fold to a more “extreme” choice if a primary election were held.
But for Democrats, that debate hasn’t surfaced for 2013, he said.
“There’s not the stark divisiveness of the mainstream and the more ideological folks on our side,” Fitzgerald said.
Also, a primary opens up the process to more people, Fitzgerald said. Although primaries historically have low turnouts — the Republican presidential primary in Virginia this year drew 5 percent, or 269,000, of voters to the polls — they still outnumber delegates at a convention.
Fitzgerald said the state Democratic convention this year had space for about 2,000 delegates.
But Democrats, just as Republicans, still do not universally endorse one method over the other.
Elkton resident Linda Shuler, one of four Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents on the state Democratic committee, said that while primaries are more “fair,” they do not generate the enthusiasm for the general election that conventions do.
“At a primary, you go vote and you go home,” she said. “The other does get everybody excited about the election.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com