Gillespie and Vogel Shine at Bland and Giles GOP Dinners

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity in the Fighting Ninth Congressional District. On Friday, the Giles County Republican Committee held their Fifth Annual Stafford Morris Dinner in Pearisburg, and it was a smashing success — almost too much of a success. The banquet hall was packed with Republican activists from as far away as Roanoke and Buchannan County. The food was fantastic, the people were great, and a good time was had by all.

The clear winners of the night were Senator Jill Vogel and Ed Gillespie. Both won their respective straw polls and both had endorsements that rained down upon them the entire night. Gillespie scored points by bringing a prop to the event, saying you can’t spell Gillespie without Giles. It provided a comedic moment for the evening.

But truly, Giles is Gillespie country. He pointed to every single person at the head table (including the keynote speaker, former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, and sitting Delegate Joseph Yost, but excluding RPV Chairman Whitbeck), and counted their endorsements. He touted his ideas on ethics reform, tax cuts, and growing the Virginia economy.

Then there was Senator Vogel, who carried the room with her enthusiasm and charming wit, touting her record on ethics reform and gun rights. Senator Vogel seems to be gaining momentum just as the primary is coming to an end, and she, too, racked up endorsements throughout the night including Giles GOP Chairwoman Mae Midkiff and Delegate Joseph Yost, along with Giles GOP Executive Board members Aidan Williams and Zach Thompson.

Here are the straw poll results.

Senator Frank Wagner, running for Governor, and Delegate Glenn Davis, running for Lieutenant Governor, traveled from the Hampton Roads area attend Friday night’s event. Senator Wagner touted his efforts on reforming transportation and regulatory reform. Delegate Davis talked about his ideas on tax reform and economic development. Delegate Davis is no stranger to Giles, attending last year’s Stafford-Morris Dinner and attending the Newport Festival in August. Both candidates were well received by the audience.

Then came Jefferson Davis Jr. … er … I mean Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart. His entire speech on Friday night was about Confederate statues and “southern heritage.” First of all, Mr. Stewart’s incessant need to talk about the Confederacy reeked of desperation and at times sounded like pandering. He cannot go anywhere south of PWC without sounding like he’s challenging George Wallace for governor of Alabama in the 1960s. He’s so concerned with the Confederacy that he didn’t even talk about tax reform or growing the economy. The crowd wasn’t very receptive to his “Southern Strategy” either, only giving him 20 votes in the straw poll compared to Mr. Gillespie’s 87 votes.

One of the main speakers on Friday night was Delegate Joseph Yost of the 12th House of Delegates District. Yost, a younger legislator, has been in the General Assembly since 2011. He is a leader on mental health reform and a perfect fit for his district, a Republican who won a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by 2 points. He won his district in 2015 by 17 points. He ended his remarks by reiterating his support for Ed Gillespie and endorsing Senator Vogel from the podium for the first time.

The keynote speaker for the night was former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. Kilgore focused his speech on the successes that Republicans had in 2016, what is needed to win in 2017, and reminisced about the glory days of Republican politics. Kilgore’s speech was warm and affectionate, speaking of his time working on Delegate Jeff Stafford, who was the inspiration for the dinner, and his campaign for Congress in 1984. Kilgore won the crowd over with stories of the good old days and reminding them of the success of President Trump.

RPV Chairman John Whitbeck closed out the night with a stand-up comedy routine that had the crowd laughing for his entire speech. Between references to socialist Tom Perioli to “low-energy” Ralph Northam, Whitbeck told jokes about our Democratic opponents the entire time, while praising our Republican candidates. He also spoke of the success that President Trump was having in Washington.

The event was a smashing success and a fun time was had by all. My wife, who generally does not care for political events, actually had a great time on Friday night. Congratulations to the Giles County GOP on hosting such a great dinner.

Bland County’s Thomas Muncy Dinner
Then came Saturday, which was the Bland County GOP’s First Annual Thomas Muncy Dinner. Little known fact: Thomas Muncy was a native of Bland County and the Republican nominee for Governor in 1917. Bland is a smaller locality that Giles, with less than 7,000 people living in the county.

I had the honor and privilege of traveling with my dear friend and RPV Western Regional Vice Chairman Dr. Nancy Dye, who serves as Finance Chair for Ed Gillespie’s campaign and served as his official surrogate for the evening. I also had the distinct privilege of being Senator Vogel’s campaign surrogate to the event. We had one goal that evening, and that was to win the straw poll for our respective candidates.

That wasn’t going to be so easy for Mr. Gillespie. You see, in an attempt to win the straw poll, Jefferson Davis … er … I mean Corey Stewart not only attended the event but promoted it and attempted to pack the event with his own supporters.  However, he didn’t take into account that the straw poll was open only to the residents of Bland County, not the 25 extra people he rounded up to attend the event. In the end, he gave the same stump speech as the night before and had the same results in the Bland Straw Poll. Stewart polled in a distant second to Gillespie, so his “southern strategy” didn’t end up working too well for him.

One Bland County resident, a local farmer and political activist Matthew French, had this to say about Stewart.

“What is bad is that after talking with Stewart last night I realized he has to campaign the way he has. Before his stump speech at the Bland Co. GOP dinner last night he introduced himself to me and wanted to talk all that nonsense about heritage and history and fighting nasty liberals. I didn’t let him. I told him that I wanted to ask him about issues that were important to me.

“Before I could even ask he blurted out, ‘I know, guns.’ I said, no — economy, education, and religious liberty. The economy he jumped on with his tax plan, the other two he acted as if he had given little thought to … he’s a carpetbagger that just says what he thinks southerners want to hear but has no clue. Folks in SWVA can’t eat a flag or a statue, we can’t house our families with heritage.”

In the end, yours truly and Dr. Dye won our respective straw polls for Mr. Gillespie and Senator Vogel. Gillespie won his straw poll with 64 percent of the vote, while Senator Vogel won with 70 percent of the vote. It was a great honor to represent someone I so greatly admire, and to be welcomed to speak to such a great unit committee. This weekend was a good time to be in Southwest Virginia.