GOP convention: 'Laborious process' to nominate AG, LG
You've got to be pretty serious about your political party if you're willing to spend an entire Saturday in Richmond nominating candidates for attorney general and lieutenant governor.
Yes, lieutenant governor. Seven people want this mostly ceremonial job that used to be a stepping stone to governor, before attorneys general like Bob McDonnell started using that office to launch a gubernatorial run.
Moments in the spotlight for the lieutenant governor occur now when there's a tied vote in the evenly split state Senate. Or when they denounce the whole convention process, threaten to run for governor as an independent, bow out of the race, and say they're not coming to the convention because it's too exclusive, too strident, and disenfranchises the mainstream voter, as current Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling has done.
About 300 delegates from Charlottesville and Albemarle are slated to go to Richmond May 18, and with Ken Cuccinelli already the presumed Republican nominee for governor, the major race will be between local Delegate Rob Bell and state Senator Mark Obenshain over the hill in Harrisonburg for attorney general.
"From Albemarle, I'd assume Rob Bell has the lion's share of the delegates," says Cindi Burket, chair of the county GOP.
Bell, 45, announced he was seeking the AG job almost as soon as Cuccinelli elbowed LG Bill Bolling aside and said he was running for governor more than a year ago. The six-term delegate for the 58th District and former Orange prosecutor has carved out a law-and-order niche in the House of Delegates.
So has his opponent, Mark Obenshain. Both men carried versions of the have-sex-with-a-child-go-to-prison-for-life bills that were signed into law in 2012. Both carried bills requiring photo ID at the polls, and both had legislation addressing human trafficking.
Some Republican insiders say that Bell has a very good chance of taking the nomination. Others give the edge to Obenshain, whose father, Richard Obenshain, was former chair of the state GOP and was running for the U.S. Senate when his plane crashed in 1978.
"All I can tell you is that Obenshain has been regarded as the favorite throughout the process," says Center for Politics founder/director Larry Sabato, "and as far as I can tell, nothing's changed. Both candidates are well respected within the GOP."
"I would give the edge to Mark Obenshain," says Rick Sincere, Charlottesville delegate and former chair of the Liberty Republican Caucus. "When you're running with the same name for which the Republican headquarters is named, you got an edge."
As for the seven lieutenant governor candidates, the crystal ball is hazy. "It's a crazy-quilt race that will come down to the alliances these candidates have made privately with one another," predicts Sabato. "It can't be issues–they all sound alike, very conservative, with only nuances of difference." One other factor could be at play, he suggests: Who does Cuccinelli want?
- Northern Virginian Jeanemarie Devolites Davis, 57, has served in the House of Delegates and as Governor Bob McDonnell's director of Intergovernmental Affairs.
- Chesapeake resident E.W. Jackson, 61, sought the GOP U.S. Senate nomination last year and has a degree from Harvard Divinity School.
- Scott Lingamfelter, 62, lives in Woodbridge, is a retired Army colonel and has served in the House of Delegates since 2002.
- State Senator Steve Martin, 56, works in insurance and has represented Chesterfield County since 1994.
- Pete Snyder, 40, is a tech entrepreneur living in Fairfax County.
- Chairman of the Prince William Board of Supervisors Corey Stewart, 44, is an international trade attorney and also resides in Woodbridge. He's been ranked number one by the state Tea Party Patriots Federation, with much consternation from other Tea Party groups.
- Fredericksburg resident Susan Stimpson, 42, is chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.
Sincere doesn't predict a winner. "I can tell you who the weak ones are– Steve Martin and E.W. Jackson," he says "They're both running shoe-string candidacies. I would say the race is among the other five. It really depends on the first three candidates to drop out and who they get their delegates to endorse."
The balloting to get an LG nominee is complicated. For one, the delegate votes are weighted. For example, Charlottesville is sending 45 delegates but only gets 30 votes, so each delegate has about two-thirds a vote, explains Sincere, who admits, "The formula– I don't really understand," but has something to do with a locality's votes for the Republican presidentlal candidate.
After the attorney general is nominated in the first ballot and the two LG candidates with the fewest votes are dropped off, then ballots continue until a candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, says Sincere.
Another worry for candidates is that their delegates get tired and go home before a lieutenant governor is nominated. "Between each ballot takes a long time," says Sincere, remembering two hours to count the votes back in 2001.
"Most people go in with a first or second choice," he says. "They may be completely undecided on a third or fourth choice." Sincere wouldn't be surprised if in the future, Republicans go to an instant run-off like what the Charlottesville Dems used in their firehouse primary.
"It's exciting," say Burket. "And it's a laborious process. If I had to choose, I'd pick a primary."
"I like conventions because of the networking," says Sincere. "But for finding stronger candidates statewide, a primary is better. Candidates are more battle tested who have talked to regular voters, not just party advocates. Certainly conventions are more fun."
Sabato is not sure it matters which format is used to pick the party's nominees. "Republicans would be nominating a solidly conservative ticket in a primary, too," he says.