The Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) still doesn’t have a finalized option for how to nominate its candidates, despite the final-sounding words of party officials last week.
The RPV State Central Committee (SCC) has decided to hold a drive-in convention at Liberty University (LU), but after a site visit with LU officials Wednesday, the RPV team determined that convention would not be feasible. In a letter published Friday, RPV Chair Rich Anderson renewed a call for a convention that would have satellite locations across Virginia and announced that the SCC would hold another Zoom meeting to vote on an unassembled convention again.
The central problem for the SCC for months has been a divide between a minority faction that wants to hold a primary or a canvass, and a pro-convention majority faction of the party that still lacks the three-fourths majority needed to change party rules to allow an unassembled convention. The two sides have been entrenched since December, with little movement towards a compromise from either side.
A normal in-person convention is illegal under current executive orders mandating social distancing, and there is some question about whether that prohibition also applies to people in cars in parking lots.
That problem continues to mark the RPV SCC, as demonstrated at the meeting last week where the majority of the SCC voted to choose a parking lot convention at LU. The day after that vote, LU officials quickly issued a press release saying that LU had not entered into any contract with the SCC and said that the RPV could not use any of the main campus parking lots or parking garages.
On Wednesday, March 3, party officials went to Lynchburg for a site visit and meetings with LU officials. The result was a determination that “Liberty University has insufficient parking bandwidth to accommodate an estimated 4,000 cars and an undetermined number of buses,” Anderson told The Virginia Star.
On Thursday, SCC member Melvin Adams emailed Anderson discussing a way to use parking at the River Ridge Mall, partially owned by LU, as a site for a two-day Friday-through-Saturday convention. The lot has 1,200 parking spaces according to the email, and Adams’ email describes a process where delegates would just drive in on Saturday, check in, get a ballot, and leave.
“This plan does not require every delegate’s vehicle to be on the site at the same time. Vehicles will be flowing constantly throughout the process,” Adams said in a partial copy of the email provided to The Star by SCC member Willie Deutsch.
On Friday morning, Anderson published a letter on the RPV Facebook page that appeared to refute Adams’ suggestion.
Anderson wrote that the site visit team had visited three-off campus parking areas to evaluate if they could serve as potential venues. “Afterwards, the team concluded that a statewide convention of delegates on a single off-campus LU property is not feasible,” he said.
Anderson is now calling for an unassembled convention with multiple drive-in voting locations across the Commonwealth. He said that LU might be one of the sites, but that further discussions were necessary.
LU Senior Vice President of Communications Scott Lamb told The Star that LU officials are open to discussions about using an off-campus parking facility as one of the satellite locations.
“We don’t know how many spaces they need, but we do have a commercial real estate piece of property in Lynchburg that could probably accommodate a certain amount of vehicles that would be part of a plan that they come up with,” Lamb said.
Lamb said, “We’re as willing as we ever have been to lease that property to the RPV, just as we’ve leased it to the circus and car shows and other one-day events.”
However, that option still requires the SCC voting to amend the party plan, which requires a three-fourths vote to win, a vote that has been defeated repeatedly over the past three months.
Anderson was optimistic in a Friday email to The Star. He said, “I believe that the SCC is receptive to employing multiple voting locations, which we will discuss at our next RPV State Central Committee meeting next Friday evening, March 12th, at 7 p.m.”
The convention is scheduled for May 8. Candidates are ramping up their campaigns and meeting with GOP units across Virginia to get delegates for the convention. The deadline to hold a state-run primary passed last week. But the RPV is no closer to an unassembled convention than it was after its first vote to hold a convention three months ago on December 5.
In January, Anderson previewed what would happen if the SCC couldn’t develop a plan that was legal and consistent with the party rules. He warned that the impasse could lead to the 72 members of the SCC choosing the party’s nominees on behalf of all the Republican voters in Virginia.
He said, “Without approved State Party Plan amendments for an unassembled convention, we are now on a trajectory that will preclude an assembled convention, an unassembled convention, and a primary. That will require that our three statewide nominees be selected by the SCC, which will take on the perception of party bosses huddled in a smoke-filled back room.”
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