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Republican State Convention Delayed by COVID-19

Voting stickers on white background
Some Republican nominations in Virginia are determined by conventions rather than primaries. The status of upcoming Congressional conventions is now up in the air. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Republican Party of Virginia announced on Thursday that it is postponing its annual state convention in May for at least another month as COVID-19 spreads across the state.

The pandemic is also almost certain to disrupt closely-fought congressional Republican nominating conventions currently set for April 25th in the 5th and 7th districts, party officials say. Past congressional nominating conventions have sometimes drawn over 2,000 participants.

Republican committees in those districts will have to decide how to proceed, according to John March, communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia. Options include postponing the convention and doing a mail-in or drive-in voting process but not a primary, March said, given the deadlines baked into state election law.

Ben Slone, chairman of the GOP’s 7th district committee, said in an email that the committee had a video call scheduled for next Thursday to discuss the options.

In the meantime, Republican candidates battling to take on Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger have continued to recruit delegates for the convention. Deadlines for signing up delegates vary by county but end on Saturday evening with Henrico County.

Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpepper) and Del. John McGuire (R-Goochland) announced this week they were cancelling campaign events. Instead, the campaigns are recruiting delegates online and arranging in-person pick-up of forms.

McGuire sent out a campaign email on Monday advertising $13 an hour pay for “high-school or college-aged students, someone with extra time on their hands, or just anyone who would like to earn some quick cash.”

“This work would not require being in any large crowds or in any situations that would be unreasonably safe to anyone on staff,” the email said.

The former Navy Seal said in an interview that the staff was adjusting to the sudden changes caused by COVID-19.

“It’s a weird situation,” he said. “But we’ve done so much work over the last few months so hopefully we’re in a good spot.”

Freitas postponed a March 26 fundraiser with Sen. Ted Cruz, who self-quarantined earlier this month after possible exposure to COVID-19, according to Freitas’s campaign manager, Joe Desilets. The former Green Berets soldier leads in cash on hand among Republicans, according to end-of-2019 campaign filings.

Religious freedom advocate Tina Ramirez, who holds a slight lead over Freitas in overall fundraising, said her campaign is moving mostly online. Ramirez and her staff have also made daily stops at local businesses to collect paperwork from potential delegates, including ones on Wednesday at the frozen yogurt chain Sweet Frog in Spotsylvania County and at Panera Bread in Midlothian.

“Everywhere that we're going, they’re following the procedures of less than 10 people, being safe, social distancing, so we're doing everything to protect people,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez, too, said she’d laid the groundwork for a successful convention, with a final push to recruit delegates through the deadlines this week.

“We have no idea what will take place,” she said. “We are meeting those deadlines so that our delegates are prepared whatever the contingency plan is that the party decides.”

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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