Republican Party of Virginia rules out statewide convention at single venue after visit to Liberty University

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — With just months before Virginia Republicans pick candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, the state party’s chairman wrote Friday a proposal to have a statewide convention at Liberty University would not work.

Members of the GOP State Central Committee opted for a statewide convention as the party’s nominating process, approving a plan on Feb. 23 to host it at Liberty University in Lynchburg. The proposal called for convention delegates to cast their ballots for statewide candidates from their cars while parked in lots owned by Liberty. 

The GOP’s convention plans appeared to surprise Liberty University, pushing the school to issue a statement denying an agreement had been reached. Those who backed a convention said no agreement was reached before the committee voted and stressed a site survey would need to be completed before any decision was finalized.

On Wednesday, a team conducted a survey and reported back its findings to Rich Anderson, the chair of the Republican Party of Virginia. Anderson sent a letter Friday to the committee and members of the party about what the team learned.

“Afterwards, the team concluded that a statewide convention of delegates on a single off-campus LU property is not feasible,” Anderson wrote. “The convergence of as many as 4,000 automobiles and 70 buses at a single venue makes that impossible.”

Anderson added the university’s senior vice president informed him on Feb. 24 about the possibility of having a convention satellite voting location in an off-campus parking area. There would need to be more discussion about the idea, Anderson wrote.

When reached for comment on the status of a potential agreement, a spokesman for Liberty University said Anderson’s letter was “an accurate description” of where things stand.

With the plan for one site to host a convention seemingly out the window, the party’s governing body will have a meeting next week to discuss options employing satellite locations across the commonwealth. This move would help quell some of the concerns from members who argued a convention in Lynchburg would make it harder for some delegates traveling far distances.

“To be frank, I and most Republicans are fatigued by this process. It is now time to put this business behind us, focus on our forthcoming convention, and get behind three winning candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. That’s what Republicans across Virginia want us to do. Let’s do it,” the letter concluded.

Republicans vying to be Virginia’s next governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general received an apology last week from Anderson over the confusion. “The press release and the situation that precipitated it are troubling and follow the prolonged period of uncertainty that has been inflicted on your campaigns over the last three months by continual SCC infighting, division, and disagreement,” he wrote in a Feb. 24 email.

Questions were raised about Liberty’s ability to handle a statewide convention during the Feb. 23 meeting where the SCC approved the proposal. Willie Deutsch, a member on the GOP State Central Committee, told other members Liberty University could provide the space and that a drive-in convention at the university was the “last option” in the meeting.

Trevor Webb, a Liberty student, told the committee plans to use tens of thousands of parking spaces at the university seemed “unfeasible” and asked then if Liberty had even approved such a proposal. 

“We do have approval from Liberty,” Mike Ginsberg, a committee member from Northern Virginia, responded. “We certainly would not have proposed it if we did not have their authorization to do so. We most certainly have the authorization to do that.” 

Concerns over holding a statewide convention amid coronavirus restrictions led to other suggestions, including an unassembled convention or party canvass, but they were rejected. One Republican gubernatorial contender, Amanda Chase, even cited the restrictions in a lawsuit against the Virginia GOP to force a statewide primary.

The lawsuit sought an injunction, arguing that possibly having 5,000 to 10,000 delegates “under one roof” violates gathering restrictions in response to the global pandemic. A Richmond judge denied Chase’s effort, ending any chance of a primary.

Virginia’s last three Republican governors urged the GOP State Central Committee to choose a party canvass, also referred to as a firehouse primary, writing in a letter before the Feb. 23 meeting saying the panel’s inability to pick a final process “has been disheartening” to watch.

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