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Taking Virginia back: State GOP hopes to ride liberal backlash back into power

Reclaiming control in Richmond in November could serve as template for Republicans nationally in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — After Democrats took over the entirety of Virginia state government in 2020, they got to work.

Photo ID requirement to vote — gone. Ultrasounds and waiting periods for abortions — gone. Death penalty — abolished.

New background checks are now required for gun purchases. LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in employment and housing,  and conversion therapy was outlawed. Undocumented students can get in-state tuition.

Marijuana was first decriminalized and then legalized for recreational use. Utility companies were told to retire their fossil fuel plants by 2045. Cities and counties got the green light to remove Confederate monuments.

Democrats even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.

What Democrats tout as progressive, long-overdue change, Republicans bash as a misguided, ill-advised liberal toot. In November, Virginia voters will be asked to render their verdict, with Republicans banking on a backlash among Virginia’s more conservative-minded voters to lead them back into power.

As the party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, put it in a Tweet after his victory at the recent state convention, “It’s time to get our Commonwealth back and put Virginia on the right track to make her the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.

If Republicans are successful in their quest to take Virginia back, it could serve as a template for Democrats nationally who are banking on a similar backlash against the Biden administration to break the Democrats’ lock on power on Washington — although Biden is, at least so far, not going nearly as far as his compatriots in Richmond.

What has happened during the last two years in Virginia is an illustration of a split that has also been seen nationally — Democrats from urban and suburban districts whose political interests have radically diverged from their more conservative neighbors in rural areas and small towns.

Once Democrats regained control of the legislature after 25 years out of power, the pent-up demand for liberal innovation could be indulged, to the significant chagrin of conservative Virginians who are angry because they increasingly don’t recognize their state, or at least its government.

Republicans, once dominant in Virginia, have seen their fortunes fade. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George W. Bush, and they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-18 margin in the Senate, which isn’t up for election in November. (Conservative firebrand State Senator Amanda Chase, elected as a Republican, sits as an independent after a dispute with her party leadership.)

Most of the attention in November will be the battle for control of the House — which, because of COVID-related census delays, will be fought using districts drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 — and the governor’s race between Northam and his likely Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls for the June Democratic primary.

McAuliffe, 64, a Clinton confidante and prolific Democratic fundraiser, was forced from office by a rule unique to Virginia that doesn’t allow governors to run for a second term. If his comeback is successful, it will mark only the second time that a former governor has reclaimed the office (the other was Democrat Mills Godwin elected in 1965 and 1973).

Youngkin, 54, is a political newcomer who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs and is running as a Christian conservative allied with Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. He made a fortune running a private equity company, allowing him to loan his campaign $5 million during the nomination campaign.

The governor’s race in Virginia is one of just two contests in the off-year election (the other is in New Jersey), making it a key early test for Democrats’ new tenure in Washington.

Four years ago, Democrats took both of those governorships, an early warning sign of the blue wave that would sweep Republicans aside in 2018.

Donald Trump remains a looming presence over this race. Youngkin spent much of the nominating contest dodging questions about whether he thought Joe Biden really won in 2020; after securing the GOP nod, he finally conceded Biden’s election was legitimate.

Democrats will try to tie Youngkin and other Republicans firmly to Trump; they will have to navigate those waters in a way that keeps Trump happy without unduly harming their prospects in the vote-rich suburbs.

The race for control of the House of Delegates will likely be decided in the Washington D.C. suburbs, where Democrats flipped a slew of seats in 2017 and 2019 amid a suburban backlash against Trump. Republicans need a net gain of just six seats to reclaim control.

One of the changes pushed through the legislature by Democrats was to shift redrawing of political maps from legislators to an appointed independent commission. But because 2020 census results have been delayed by the pandemic, the existing maps will be used.

That means House battles will be fought using maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, although Democrats already won a majority with those maps in 2019.

The Republican challenge will be to persuade suburban voters who gave Democrats the keys to the castle two years ago that they have gone too far — that what has been coming out of Richmond isn’t what they voted for.

For the other two statewide offices on the ballot in November, Republicans selected former Delegate Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach for attorney general

Sears, 57, who served a single term in the legislature nearly 20 years ago and hasn’t held office since, was the biggest surprise to come out of the Republican convention, dispatching five rivals. A Jamaican immigrant and former Marine from Winchester, she served as national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump in 2020, and her campaign posters and Twitter feed showed her carrying an assault rifle.

Should she prevail in November, Sears would preside of the Democratic-controlled Senate, giving Republicans at least some leverage in the upper chamber.

Eight Democrats are competing in the primary for lieutenant governor, with no clear front-runner.

The attorney general race is the only statewide contest where the incumbent is running, Democrat Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term. However, he is facing a stiff primary challenge from Delegate Jay Jones.

The survivor will face Miyares, 45, the first Cuban-American to serve in Virginia’s legislature.

The post of attorney general would be a perch which a Republican could try to use to thwart Democrats in the legislature by filing legal challenges. Republican attorneys general have also been leading the charge against Biden administration policies in Washington.

All of the statewide races, and the battle for control of the House, will get out-sized national attention, given the small number of contests this year and the bragging rights that will go to the victors.

As for 2022, November will set up this question: “As Virginia goes, so goes the nation?”

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Glenn Youngkin wins Virginia GOP’s nomination for governor

Political newcomer bests 6 rivals to set up likely fall race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

VirginiaRICHMOND (CFP) — Glenn Youngkin, a wealthy outsider making his first run for political office, has won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor, setting up what will likely be a high-spending and highly contested fall match-up with Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe.

Glenn Youngkin

Youngkin secured a majority to clinch the nomination after six rounds of counting; the Republican Party of Virginia opted to use ranked-choice voting by more than 30,000 delegates who cast ballots during a statewide drive-thru convention Saturday.

Younkin won 55% of the weighted delegate vote to defeat his last remaining rival, Pete Snyder, a venture capitalist who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.

“I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me,” Youngkin said on Twitter after Snyder conceded late Monday. “Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond.”

State Senator Amanda Chase from Chesterfield County — who describes herself as “Trump in heels” and has been threatening to bolt the party to run as an independent — was eliminated in the round prior to Snyder. She has so far not publicly reacted or gave an indication of her future plans, although Trump endorsed Youngkin after results were announced.

In the race for lieutenant governor, former State Delegate Winsome Sears — the 2020 national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump whose campaign posters and Twitter feed show her carrying an assault rifle — defeated five other candidates to win the party’s nod.

State Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach beat out three other candidates in the race to be the party’s nominee for attorney general. However, the second-place finisher in that contest, Chuck Smith, has requested a recount.

Youngkin, 54, who lives in Great Falls in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, was formerly the CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. He loaned his campaign more than $5 million, which gave him a financial advantage over his intra-party rivals with more political experience.

Democrats will choose their nominees for all three offices in a June 8 primary. McAuliffe, who is trying to reclaim the post he held from 2014 to 2018, holds a commanding lead in Democratic polling.

Republicans have not won an election to statewide office since 2009, as the Old Dominion has moved more clearly into the Democratic column.

But Republican activists have been energized by the Democratic takeover of the legislature in 2020, which has ushered in a flurry of social legislation, including LGBTQ rights measures, gun control and marijuana legalization.

The Republican convention count — conducted by hand after some candidates objected to using computer software programs over fraud concerns — began Sunday afternoon at a hotel in downtown Richmond and was live-streamed.

The party used ranked-choice voting, which meant that if no one got a majority after the initial count, lower-finishing candidates were eliminated one-by-one and their votes reassigned to the delegate’s second choice.

Also, delegate votes didn’t count equally but were weighted based on where each delegate lives, with each county and independent city in Virginia given a number of delegates based on Republican performance in past elections.

Incumbent Governor Ralph Northam is barred by state law from seeking re-election; Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is running for governor; and Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking re-election.

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Virginia Republicans begin count of delegate votes for statewide offices

Hand count at Richmond hotel will decide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

VirginiaRICHMOND (CFP) — Republican party officials in Virginia have begun counting votes cast in Saturday’s statewide drive-thru nominating convention to pick their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, with at least one candidate already lobbing charges of malfeasance.

The count began Sunday afternoon at a hotel in downtown Richmond. It will be done by hand, after some candidates objected to using computer software programs over fraud concerns, and live-streamed.

Virginia Counting

Live-stream of Virginia GOP vote count

Due to the hand counting and complexity of the process — which includes weighting votes and ranked-choice voting — full results are not expected until at least Tuesday and could stretch to Thursday.

Delegates cast votes at 39 drive-thru locations across the commonwealth. Rich Anderson, the Republican Party of Virginia chair, said officials “could not be happier with how smoothly and efficiently our convention was run.”

“We would also like to ensure all the convention delegates that their ballots will be counted fairly and accurately – leaving no room for doubt or question as to whom our nominees will be,” Anderson said in a statement.

However, State Senator Amanda Chase — who calls herself “Trump in heels” — took to Twitter shortly after convention closed to allege that party officials in Madison and Prince William counties were not following the rules. She accused them of trying to tilt the election to one of her rivals, Pete Snyder, and threatened to bolt the party.

If RPV steals this election for Pete I still have plenty of time to run as an independent,” she tweeted. “Clear corruption by RPV, I will not honor a pledge if the Party cannot run a fair process.”

Since the 2020 election, Chase has embraced Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and his assertion that he was cheated out of re-election. She was censured by her Senate colleagues and stripped of committee assignments for calling the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 “patriots.”

She also carried a gun into a committee hearing, was forced to sit in a plexiglass box in the Senate chamber after refusing to wear a mask, and has vigorously opposed efforts to remove Confederate monuments. Some party leaders have expressed fears that given all of her controversies, her nomination could lead to electoral disaster in November.

Party officials plan to first count the vote in the race for attorney general, with four candidates, followed by the lieutenant governor’s race, with six, and the governor’s race, with seven.

Republicans in the Old Dominion, which has been shifting Democratic, have not won any of those offices since 2009.

Virginia Republicans decided to nominate candidates with a convention, rather than a primary, which is allowed under state law but which set off internal wrangling over process, with the loudest complaints coming from Chase, who has charged that party officials were trying to use rules to stop her.

Delegate votes won’t count equally but will be weighted based on where each delegate lives.

Each county and independent city in Virginia was given a number of delegates based on Republican performance in past elections, and delegates from each locality will pick those delegates. That means that some rural, heavily Republican counties will elect more delegates than much larger, Democratic Richmond, although larger numbers of delegates in those areas could make the value of each individual delegate vote less.

To add another layer of complexity, the party is also using ranked-choice voting, in which delegates will rank candidates rather than selecting one. If no candidate gains a majority, candidates with fewer votes will be eliminated and their votes reassigned to delegates’ second choices, until someone gains a majority.

Ranked-choice voting is normally associated with more Democratic-leaning electorates, such as the city of San Francisco and the state of Maine. But Virginia Republicans used the process in electing a party chair in 2020 and opted to continue with the practice this year.

In addition to Chase and Synder, a venture capitalist who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013, the governor’s race includes State Delegate Kirk Cox, who served as House speaker until Republicans lost control of the legislature in 2017; Glenn Youngkin, an investment company executive; Octavia Johnson, the former sheriff in Roanoke; Peter Doran, a former think tank CEO; and Sergio de la Peña, a former Army colonel who served as a deputy assistant defense secretary in the Pentagon during the Trump administration.

The survivor of the convention will likely face the formidable challenge of trying to beat Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe, who is trying to reclaim the post he held from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls in the Democratic race.

The race for lieutenant governor includes State Delegate Glenn Davis; former Delegate Tim Hugo; Puneet Ahluwalia, a business consultant; Lance Allen, an Air Force veteran who works for a defense contractor; Maeve Rigler, an attorney and businesswoman; and former Delegate Winsome Sears, whose campaign posters and Twitter feed show her carrying an assault rifle.

The lieutenant governor’s race was rocked in the final stretch with an anonymous robocall accusing Davis of being a “gay Democrat.” He filed a defamation suit to try to unmask who was behind the attack.

The attorney general’s race includes Chesterfield County Supervisor Leslie Haley, State Delegate Jason Miyares and attorneys Chuck Smith and Jack White.

Democrats will choose their nominees for all three offices in a June 8 primary.

Incumbent Governor Ralph Northam is barred by state law from seeking re-election; Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is running for governor; and Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking re-election.

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Virginia Republicans pick nominees for statewide races at convention Saturday

Voting will take place at 39 different locations across the commonwealth, using weighted and ranked-choice voting

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

VirginiaRICHMOND (CFP) — Republicans delegates will gather across Virginia on Saturday to pick their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general using a complex process that will leave candidates waiting for results for days — results that, in an echo of 2020, one candidate for governor has already warned supporters not to trust.

All three races have drawn crowded fields, with seven candidates in the governor’s race, six running for lieutenant governor, and four competing for attorney general. Republicans have not won any of those offices since 2009.

The Republican Party of Virginia decided to nominate candidates with a convention, rather than a primary, which is allowed under state law but which set off internal wrangling over process that is likely to continue long after the votes are cast.

After discarding plans for a state convention at a single location due to COVID-19 concerns, the more than 53,000 delegates who have registered to participate will drop off ballots at one of 39 drive-thru polling locations. The locations will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ballots will then be driven to a central location in Richmond to be counted by hand, after some candidates objected to electronic counting. Counting won’t begin until Sunday and is expected to last until at least Tuesday before winners are declared. The counting process will be live-streamed.

Despite loud complaints from Republicans nationally about voter fraud, NBC News reported that the state party quietly decided to let delegates participate who did not provide their state-issued voter ID number or signature on their delegate applications, although ID will be required to cast ballots Saturday.

Further complicating the process is the fact that delegate votes won’t count equally but will be weighted based on where each delegate lives.

Each county and independent city in Virginia was given a number of delegates based on Republican performance in past elections, and delegates from each locality will pick those delegates. That means that some rural, heavily Republican counties will elect more delegates than much larger, Democratic Richmond, although larger numbers of delegates in those areas could make the value of each individual delegate vote less.

To add another layer of complexity, the party is also using ranked-choice voting, in which delegates will rank candidates rather than selecting one. If no candidate gains a majority, candidates with fewer votes will be eliminated and their votes reassigned to delegates’ second choices, until someone gains a majority.

Ranked-choice voting is normally associated with more Democratic-leaning electorates, such as the city of San Francisco and the state of Maine. But Virginia Republicans used the process in electing a party chair in 2020 and opted to continue with the practice this year.

The decision to hold a convention rather than a primary and use ranked-choice voting have been seen as maneuvers to block State Senator Amanda Chase from winning the party’s nomination for governor.

Chase — who describes herself as “Trump in heels” — would have been formidable in a primary or a convention where a candidate could win with a plurality. She has loudly objected to procedural decisions by state party leaders, at one point threatening to bolt and run as an independent.

In a recent fundraising email sent to supporters, Chase said, in all caps, “DO NOT TRUST THE PARTY TO DELIVER ACCURATE RESULTS” and threatened a lawsuit if the party’s figures don’t match those compiled by her own campaign.

Since the 2020 election, Chase has embraced Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and his assertion that he was cheated out of re-election.

In addition to Chase, the governor’s race includes State Delegate Kirk Cox, who served as House speaker until Republicans lost control of the legislature in 2017; Glenn Youngkin, an investment company executive; Pete Snyder, a venture capitalist who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013; Octavia Johnson, the former sheriff in Roanoke; Peter Doran, a former think tank CEO; and Sergio de la Peña, a former Army colonel who served as a deputy assistant defense secretary in the Pentagon during the Trump administration.

The survivor of the convention will likely face the formidable challenge of trying to beat Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe, who is trying to reclaim the post he held from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls in the Democratic race.

The race for lieutenant governor includes State Delegate Glenn Davis; former Delegate Tim Hugo; Puneet Ahluwalia, a business consultant; Lance Allen, an Air Force veteran who works for a defense contractor; Maeve Rigler, an attorney and businesswoman; and former Delegate Winsome Sears.

The lieutenant governor’s race was rocked in the final stretch with an anonymous robocall accusing Davis of being a “gay Democrat.” He filed a defamation suit to try to unmask who was behind the attack.

The attorney general’s race includes Chesterfield County Supervisor Leslie Haley, State Delegate Jason Miyares and attorneys Chuck Smith and Jack White.

Democrats will choose their nominees for all three offices in a June 8 primary.

Incumbent Governor Ralph Northam is barred by state law from seeking re-election; Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is running for governor; and Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking re-election.

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New Census figures show 5-seat shift in Southern U.S. House districts

Texas, Florida and North Carolina gain seats; West Virginia loses a seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Census Bureau released population totals for reapportionment of U.S. House seats Monday that will alter the size of delegations in four Southern states.

Fast-growing Texas will be the biggest winner, gaining two seats to take its delegation to 38 members. Florida will get one new seat to go to 28, and North Carolina will gain one seat to go to 14.

However, West Virginia will lose one of its three seats, which could force Republican incumbents to run against each other in newly configured, larger districts.

West Virginia’s new delegation will be its smallest in history. The Mountaineer State has had at least three members of Congress since it entered the Union in 1863 and had as many as six in the 1950s.

Alabama dodged a bullet, keeping all of its seven seats. Some projections prior to release of the final numbers had shown the Yellowhammer State losing a seat.

Georgia will also not gain a seat for the first time in 40 years.

The new numbers will set off a legislative scramble in all four states, as new lines will have to be drawn.

Republicans will be in total control of redrawing lines in all four states. While North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, state law doesn’t give him authority to veto reapportionment bills.

However, Texas and North Carolina are covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to preserve electoral opportunities for minority candidates. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in Florida in 2010 outlaws gerrymandering lines based on political considerations.

Legislators in West Virginia will have to decide which of the state’s three GOP House members — David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney — to draw into the same district. As there are no statewide or Senate races in 2022, House members may be left with the option of competing in a primary or bowing out of Congress.

In Texas, due to demographic trends, Republican legislators may have to draw at least one majority Latino district, likely to be Democratic, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they could try to maximize Republican chances across the rest of the map, including helping out incumbents who survived Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020.

No matter now the lines are drawn, litigation is likely in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, states where maps drawn after the 2010 Census were subject to lengthy court fights that resulted in court-ordered map redraws in all three states.

While Virginia is not gaining or losing a seat, its lines could also be substantially redrawn by a new independent commission. The maps after 2010 were drawn by Republicans, who have since lost control of the legislature and governorship, and then later redrawn by a federal court after a legal fight.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature implemented an independent redistricting commission earlier this year.

Also, in Georgia, Republicans may redraw the map in metro Atlanta to target two Democratic incumbents — Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — by combining Democratic areas currently in both of their districts into a single district, which could force one of them out of Congress.

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