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Virginia GOP Scuttles Plan For Full Convention at Liberty

Liberty University Sign
FILE-This Tuesday March 24, 2020 file photo shows a sign that marks an entrance to Liberty University. A university spokesperson says they have not approved a planned GOP nominating convention, and it is unclear how the party will chose its candidates. (AP Photo/Steve Helber,File)

Virginia Republicans are backing away from plans to hold a large nominating convention in parking lots owned by Liberty University.

In a letter sent to local party chairs on Friday, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson said it would not be feasible to host up to 4,000 cars and 70 buses at commercial properties owned by the school in Lynchburg.

“To be frank, I and most Republicans are fatigued by this process,” Anderson wrote in the letter, vowing to call a meeting of the party’s State Central Committee next week.

Debates over nominating methods have paralyzed the committee for months, leaving candidates and voters in limbo. Last month, the SCC appeared to resolve the impasse, voting to hold a convention at Liberty University parking lots on May 8.

But the university quickly made it clear it had not reached any agreement on hosting a convention. Scott Lamb, a spokesman for Liberty, said on Friday that “in no way could it be said” that the school had promised to host a full convention on campus.

Instead, Lamb said, Liberty was willing to rent the parking lots of other commercial property it owns in Lynchburg. The school’s assets include a mall parking lot the university previously rented to circuses and car shows.

In his letter, Anderson said it was possible the party could strike an agreement on using those spaces as a satellite voting location.

It remains unclear how Republicans will move past the current impasse. State code requires the party certify its chosen candidates to the State Board of Elections by June 13. If they don’t resolve their differences, there’s a chance the 72 members on the SCC could select a candidate.

Two factions in the SCC have offered competing plans to avoid that outcome. Both would allow a remote, ranked-choice selection process at sites across the state.

The plans differ in the amount of voting locations. A faction of the committee that favors primaries is supporting allowing sites in most cities and counties, while a counter-proposal would create only a few locations in each congressional district. Primary-backers argue that setup would likely violate Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions and create logistical hurdles.

Convention supporters argue their process limits participation to commited conservatives. Primary backers say their method allows for much broader participation. They argue convention rules and procedures can be stacked to favor certain candidates.

The uncertainty has made things difficult for candidates.

State Sen. Amanda Chase, who holds a small lead in recent polls over seven other candidates, has railed against conventions. Unlike primaries, conventions require candidates to clear a 50% threshold for votes -- a move that could marginalize the Trumpian Chase in a broad field. She unsuccessfully sued the party over its convention plans, arguing they failed to follow Northam’s health guidelines.

“I’m not wasting money mailing you flyers until we have complete information regarding this convention,” Chase wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

The logjam at the SCC can be traced to longstanding personal feuds and internal distrust among different factions of the GOP, according to Shaun Kenney, who served as the party’s executive director in 2014. He said the disunity threatens the party’s odds in November.

“There’s a really basic litmus test here: If we can’t run our party, then we don’t deserve to run Virginia,” Kenney said.

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