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2013 RPV Convention demonstrates the folly of nominating conventions

While many convention goers are still asleep after their grueling day yesterday, those of us who are more clear-headed have had some time to reflect on everything that happened.  And from my perspective, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anybody still thinks that nominating by convention is a good idea.

Let’s look at the numbers.

8,094 – The total number of registered delegates who showed up, out of over 12,000 who registered.
255,826 – The number of Republicans casting a ballot in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary.

Just from those numbers you can see that the majority of well-motivated Republicans interested in participating in our nominating processes were disenfranchised by the State Convention.

Here’s another number: $25.  As my colleague Melissa Kenney noted the other day [1], that’s the cost for children to attend the convention.  For a family as large as hers, or as large as Ken Cuccinelli’s, it would cost almost $200 for them to attend the convention.  That doesn’t include meals, transportation and hotel costs for those who didn’t come from Richmond or the surrounding suburbs and don’t want to risk a 5+ hour drive home after a grueling hurry-up-and-wait style convention.  Not everybody can afford the poll tax conventions effectively levy.

And despite the miracles of modern communication, cell phones, Bearing Drift and our livestream, John Frederick’s live broadcast, email, Facebook and Twitter, the convention floor was still rife with rumors and nonsense, including the fake/rescinded endorsement controversy between Corey Stewart and Pete Snyder on the final ballot. Conventioneers were treated like fungi – kept in the dark and fed crap – and that inevitably had an impact on the final selection of E.W. Jackson as our Lt. Governor nominee.  Information trickled out of the counting area, and it was left to bloggers and social media to keep convention goers in the know.  And given the length of the convention, cell phones were dying or dead far before the convention was gaveled closed at 10:30 Saturday night.

We’ve all heard the arguments over the years about disenfranchisement of military members, parents with small children who can’t afford the cost of childcare, small business owners who can’t afford to give up a spring Saturday to the convention, the elderly who can’t go for 16 hours at a time, and the rest.  That was clearly in evidence yesterday, given that by the time the fourth ballot rolled around, over a third of the conventioneers who had showed up had left.  The final ballot saw fewer that 5,000 votes cast.

Is that what we really want?

This is usually the part of the conversation where the convention crowd starts complaining about “the establishment” and how my comments are just complaints from another establishment Republican complaining because my candidate didn’t win.  Sorry, but that’s not going to fly given the outcome of this convention.  First of all, I’m not speaking for the establishment when I suggest conventions are awful.  The real truth here is right in front of everybody’s face: “the establishment” wants conventions.   RPV’s State Central Commitee – the “establishment” of the Republican Party of Virginia – voted on Friday 51-21 to nominate our statewide Senate candidate next year by convention.  Those of us who want primaries are not the establishment in Virginia, we’re the folks on the outside complaining about the outdated, discriminatory and elitist nominating process where only people who have nothing better to do on a spring Saturday than sit in an arena covered in stickers for fifteen hours get to choose our nominees.

And the establishment got their wish – two of their candidates were nominated.  Both Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Obenshain are solid establishment candidates.  Ken ran unopposed, and Mark had the overwhelming backing of most of the unit chairs and State Central members out there.  They were exactly whom the establishment wanted as their nominees.

If you hate the political establishment, I can’t understand how you can favor conventions.

Bishop Jackson, on the other hand, was probably not what the establishment was looking for, but he also demonstrates the other danger of conventions – runaway enthusiasm for good speech-making.   There is no better orator in Virginia today than E.W. Jackson.  Anybody who has heard him speak can’t help but be moved, even if we’ve heard the same speech given ten different times in ten different places.  He has a way with words.  And in a convention, when most interaction between delegates and the candidates has been via direct mail and incessant phone calls, actually hearing a candidate with no filter between them and the audience has a major impact.  Jackson’s campaign was lackluster up to that point – he didn’t file as many delegates as most of the other campaigns, he raised hardly any money compared to Corey Stewart, JeanneMarie Davis and Pete Snyder, and there was little buzz about his campaign going into yesterday.  Yet he blew folks away on the first ballot and steadily increased his percentage until pulling off the victory.  I am confident in saying that had the candidates not given speeches, this would not have happened.  And while I am confident that Bishop Jackson, as a Harvard educated attorney, a Marine and a successful preacher, has a shot at winning the LG race, he was by no means the most qualified or proven candidate out of the choices we were given.  The party has taken a major risk in nominating someone who has never won an election, never held elective office and who will be headed to a general election campaign against a Democratic field that has already outraised him 10-1. And given the stakes – control of the State Senate for two years – this may not have been the best time to go with the risky choice.

Fortunately, unlike all of the other nominees – including the Democrats, Jackson does have experience running a statewide campaign. Granted, he only captured 4.72% of the vote in that campaign, but the experience is something no one else has.  Whether that experience will be enough to overcome the Democrats clear cash advantage is anybody’s guess.  We can only hope.

But it didn’t have to be this way.  It is time we ditch these wasteful conventions for statewide primaries for good, and that means we need to finally adopt party registration here in Virginia.  Unfortunately, given the current make up of State Central, its going to be a while before we are going to be able to drag RPV kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

We can worry about the 21st century some other day.