2016 Republican ‘Advance’ Showcased 2017 Elections, Rising GOP Stars

Atrium at Omni Richmond Hotel.

The 2016 Republican Advance is now in the rearview mirror and GOP members statewide can look forward to a little down time for the holidays before campaigns totally ramp up for the 2017 gubernatorial offices.  The weekend was a showcase for those 2017 campaigns, and all were there to meet and greet voters and activists. Staffers were everywhere with the usual gauntlets of lapel stickers, sign-up sheets, and waving candidate signs at the entrance to various events.

It’s been a busy week but before it completely slips away, I wanted to share some thoughts and photos of the 2016 Advance. Please forgive the pics that are out of focus; low lighting played havoc with my lens.

The first familiar face I saw after arriving Friday afternoon was Daniel Cortez who used to be a correspondent with LynnRMitchell.com. We talked and got caught up while chasing down our media credentials. Then I lost him and our paths didn’t cross again. Daniel, an Independent voter, lives in Northern Virginia and makes appearances at many Republican events. That’s when I also ran into Lee Pillsbury, David Eggleston, Cole Trower, and Alec Thomas.

The Advance: For 33 years, state Republicans have met in December after the November elections, which are held every year in Virginia, to lick their wounds, celebrate their victories, and look to the future. Originally begun in Augusta County with the help of State Senator Emmett Hanger, the Advance (so named because Republicans never retreat) offers an opportunity to meet elected officials, talk with candidates who are running in upcoming elections, and to hear speakers and attend seminars.

Most of all, however, it provides the opportunity to interact with activists and leaders from across the Commonwealth in one location, talking over lunch, pausing for a quick conversation in an alcove, and hobnobbing at the many hospitality suites that are hosted by candidates, office holders, and organizations. Among those who hosted hospitality suites this year were Ed Gillespie for Governor, Corey Stewart for Governor, Frank Wagner for Governor … John Adams for Attorney General and Chuck Smith for Attorney General … Glenn Davis for Lieutenant Governor, Bryce Reeves for LG, Jill Vogel for LG … Delegate Rob Bell, Congressman Rob Wittman, former Governor Jim Gilmore, and RPV.

Matt Wells, Trixie Averill, Adam Tolbert, Eric Cantor, Linwood Cobb.

RVA 2016: This year the Republican Party of Virginia chose the Omni Richmond as the location of the annual gathering. Located in downtown Richmond’s James Center in the historic Shockoe Slip district along the James River, the area is especially popular during the holidays when thousands descend on the capital city to stroll among the seasonal decor at the James Center that includes trees and lighted deer. It was also convenient for RPV folks whose offices are a few blocks away, and the central location made it an easy commute from all areas of the Commonwealth.

Return to The Homestead? I’m hearing next year we will be back at The Homestead in western Virginia which is my all-time favorite place for this event, for a number of reasons. The layout of The Homestead is perfect for our convention — from the Grand Hall to people-watch and gather for intimate meetings, to the multiple meeting rooms … the ballrooms used for dining, and hospitality suites. There is entertainment for the family, and most of all the setting and grounds are gorgeous and seasonal, decorated and lighted for evening strolls in the cold December nights. If we’re lucky, there’s a dusting of snow during the weekend. Oh, and one more thing — could the powers-that-be move it back to the traditional first weekend in December? The second weekend is way too close to Christmas.

Congressman Rob Wittman (1st CD)

Opening Reception: I had looked forward to the opening reception on Friday featuring Congressman Eric Cantor, former Governor Bob McDonnell, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, hoping to catch some photos and hear the positive words of these long-time Republican leaders, but was stopped at the door by RPV staff who said press was not allowed. Though I had not paid to attend the Advance — I had out-of-town company coming to visit the next day and needed to get back to Staunton — I had mistakenly thought the information noting press access had included the reception. So I waited on the balcony overlooking the atrium until that event was finished.

But I wondered, why not press? Why not allow coverage? I’m a former State Central Committee member and local leader for years within the party so not a hostile writer. In fact, I very much admire Congressman Cantor and Governor McDonnell. I don’t have an answer for being barred, and apparently the Richmond Times-Dispatch wondered about the lack of access, too, as political reporter Jim Nolan noted:

Despite the political significance of the gathering, reporters were not given access to any of Friday evening’s three events featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — the cocktail reception honoring McDonnell and two other receptions featuring Christie and Republican Party of Virginia chairman John Whitbeck.

“Because it is a fundraising reception, the expectation of our donors was that they would have a private event with Governor Christie,” Whitbeck said.

Usually the opening reception is just that — a welcoming event for those who have traveled to the Advance, not a fundraiser. I think RPV missed an opportunity but it’s their rules. That’s okay, though — friend Trixie Averill was in the room and was quoted by reporter Nolan:

“It was totally a room of love,” said Trixie Averill, a vice chairwoman of the Roanoke County Republican Committee, who made the trip to see McDonnell.

She said the room was constantly erupting in cheers. McDonnell, she said, seemed “very relaxed, very happy to be with everyone,” adding: “He missed it.”

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former 9 Congressional District Chairman Linwood Cobb.

Indeed. All three speakers have been extremely successful and have shared that success with the GOP. Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell are friends from their years together in the Republican Governors Association after their 2009 elections. Christie, a Republican in a blue state, won an unprecedented second gubernatorial term in NJ. McDonnell won in 2009 with the most votes ever for governor, an election that swept in Republicans for the top three spots. Eric Cantor was the highest ranking Jewish member of Congress in its history. A native of Richmond, he was voted to Congress where he worked his way up, serving as Minority Whip and then Majority Leader. Under the leadership of Linwood Cobb who chaired Cantor’s 7th Congressional District along with an army of volunteers, Cantor held two of the largest Republican events in the Commonwealth, exceeded only by the GOP state convention. His Republican Roundup was attended by thousands each October, and his Annual Breakfast attended by over a thousand business leaders and legislators was held each February. His fundraising ability for the party is legendary, and both he and McDonnell were well respected by the business community.

Martha Boneta and Ed Gillespie

Ed Gillespie’s hospitality suite: Ed Gillespie’s hospitality suite was held at the Cabana Rooftop so we took the elevator to the 20th floor overlooking downtown Richmond. What a sight! The place was packed when Trixie Averill and I arrived around 9:30 after riding the party bus shuttle from the Omni with some folks that included Delegate Terry Austin of Botetourt, and Christine Broughton who was formerly chairman of Botetourt County GOP. There was barely room to walk and Ed was surrounded by supporters — so I slipped out to the patio in the cold temps to take a few pictures of the city. Music, food, drinks — it was the place to be on Friday night.

There were far more familiar faces than I could ever remember but a few stood out especially Peter Foster from Chesterfield County who has run many campaigns, Martha Boneta, Phil Cox who heads up Americans for Prosperity, Anna Lee, and countless others including elected officials. Back on the party bus to be returned to the Omni, I was in the company of former Eastern Vice Chairwoman Juanita Ballenger, Marty and Kathy Williams, and John Fredericks the radio guy.

dscn5238Glenn Davis’s hospitality suite: Arriving back at the Omni, I made a beeline to Delegate Glenn Davis’ hospitality suite on the second floor after his campaign manager, Cole Trower, said to be sure and stop by and, sure enough, they had a DJ cranking out the tunes, drinks and food and tables set up but plenty of floor space for dancing. Lots of familiar faces — Glenn was deep in conversation across the room but there were plenty of Millennials in the room. I never got to talk to Tony Pham but saw him across the way. Sara Allison, the Millennial Ascent ladies Stacie Gordon and Savannah Rozier, Thomas Turner, Nadia Elgendy, Beck Stanley, Rebecca Palmer, Sarah Ashley, Mike Wade, Marty and Kathy Williams, and more.

Running for Lieutenant Governor, Glenn has made a name for himself the past nine months. He was not familiar to me before April when I first met him at the Republican State Convention in Harrisonburg but he quickly became someone to take notice of. I have nothing against his opponents — State Senator Bryce Reeves and State Senator Jill Vogel — but Glenn went out of his way from the first time I met him to talk, share his thoughts on governing, and answer questions. It began at the convention when he stopped by the media table and let me get a picture for Bearing Drift, and then he said he would bring some of his literature. Expecting him to be like many people who forget what they promise as soon as they walk away from the table, I was pleasantly surprised when he returned later with the lit — and that’s when he first went up on my radar as someone to watch. (Don’t laugh — I’ve dealt with many politicians throughout the years. It’s sometimes the little things that can make or break you.)

Thomas Turner, Kathy and Marty Williams

Three weeks later he followed up with a phone call while I was on vacation so we chatted a bit and he said he would touch base after I was back home. And that’s exactly what he did.  He called. He listened to my thoughts about various issues. He let me know Mellow Yellow (his traveling RV) was heading to the Shenandoah Valley so we made plans to meet and talk. I was interested in finding out more about this candidate and wasn’t expecting to write about him, but our conversation was so interesting I turned it into a post. While researching for that article, I discovered his community involvement, his philanthropic activities, his business finesse, and much more about this energetic, outgoing candidate who has held his own against his better-known opponents. (Interview with Jim Hoeft.) I liked what I found.

I wasn’t at the hospitality suite at 2:00 a.m. but heard that it was still going strong into the night with a DJ, dancing, and plenty of Millennials in the room. Cole has a video of Glenn line dancing at 1:00 a.m. on a crowded dance floor. Keep an eye on this rising star in the GOP.

John Adams in crowded Omni hallway.

John Adams: There seems to be a difference in John Adams‘ persona these days. His strongest competition, Rob Bell, removed himself from the race in November, leaving only Chuck Smith after State Senators Mark Obenshain and Bill Stanley decided not to jump in. When I first encountered Mr. Adams in March when he dropped by Augusta County, he was that new candidate who was just learning the ropes. About six weeks later I again saw him at the 9th District Convention in Wytheville with his wife. His heavy schedule of traveling and campaigning throughout the past six months has him now a polished, confident candidate and, as I talked with him Friday, he looked like an attorney general. Chalk up another rising star for the GOP.

Sara Allison and Stacie Gordon

Millennial Ascent: Talking with Stacie Gordon and Savannah Rozier who founded the Millennial Ascent blog less than a year ago is like a shot in the arm. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and their smiles are infectious. These two power house writers have started a whole movement with MAC-PAC that projects a vision for the future and has the advantage of their determination to get there. Their writing is fresh and informational, and they have brought on other Millennials to add additional voices to the mix including Owen Haughton and Beck Stanley who were with the crew Friday night, and Peter Finocchio who was somewhere around the Advance because I saw his pics on Facebook although I never personally ran into him. Thanks for all Millennial Ascent adds to the GOP and the political discussion. They are our future and are more rising stars for the Republican Party.

Kristi Way talking with former Lt. Gov. John Hager.

Bottom line: For all the partying at the Advance, the underlining urgency is the upcoming 2017 elections. Republicans have not won since 2009 — the year McDonnell, Bolling, and Cuccinelli swept into office with a party united in a way that has not been seen in the years since. It’s time for that drought to be over. Candidates are hiring staff and recruiting volunteers, and they themselves are crisscrossing the Commonwealth. With 2017 gubernatorial, 2018 senatorial, and 2020 presidential plus redistricting, there is much work to do.

For more about the weekend, check out my post with photos of Ed Gillespie’s hospitality suite, Bearing Drift colleague Jay McConicville who shared his thoughts, as well as Peter Finocchio’s post Advancing into 2017 , and Jim Nolan’s take on the Advance.

advance-2016-1Former Western Chairwoman Trixie Averill and current Western Chairwoman Nancy Dye.


Mike Thomas, former Chesterfield County GOP Chair Donald Williams, Nancy Williams, and Hanover Supervisor Angela Wiecek-Kelly.

advance-2016-2Linwood Cobb and Jack Wilson

advance-2016-4Trixie Averill, Jane Ladd

advance-2016-6Former Governor Bob McDonnell leaving the Omni after addressing the opening reception.

advance-2016-7RVA’s Cary Street in the historic Shockoe Slip at Christmas with its cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks.


advance-2016-9Western Vice Chairman Wendell Walker and LU student John Wood.

advance-2016-10Davis and Kate Rennolds

advance-2016-11Delegate Terry Austin (19th House District).


The Republican Women’s Club ladies: Fay Williamson, Jenny Mundy, Marie Quinn.advance-2016-13More Republican ladies. Sandy Liddy Bourne works with former Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen.

advance-2016-14Melissa Nelson, Cindy Wharton, Sara Wells, Kristi Way.


Whatever they were talking about, they were both getting a kick out of it. Eric Cantor and Trixie Averill.

Rebecca Palmer and Beck Stanley

advance-2016-17Looking in at the Ed Gillespie hospitality suite at Cabana Rooftop …


… and looking out over downtown Richmond.advance-2016-20


Richmond at Christmas

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
December 19, 2016