By the slimmest of margins, leaders of the Republican Party of Virginia on Saturday voted to select their 2017 statewide candidates in a primary rather than at a convention — a nominating change that could have significant implications for a host of Republicans planning runs for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The 41-40 vote by the GOP’s State Central Committee effectively upended a compromise agreement reached last year by factions within the state party that called for a primary in the 2016 race for president to be followed by a nominating convention for statewide offices in 2017. It was a victory for the party’s more moderate, establishment wing, whose leadership was unseated by conservative grass-roots and tea party activists in 2013.
Establishment Republicans have spent the past couple of years working to regain control of the State Central Committee at the district level. They emerged with a slight majority among the 40 new members elected to the committee this year, helping put them over the top.
“It shows the voters we’re more inclusive and want to reach out to as many as possible,” said Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate, who advocated for the move to a primary. Kilgore said the past few conventions left Republicans “bitter at each other.”
The vote followed a civil but strident hourlong debate that featured more than two dozen GOP leaders from across the state and reflected the evenly split sentiment of the meeting room at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.