Winners & Losers from the GOP Convention

With Monday night’s dramatic vote tally officially nominating Glenn Youngkin as the Republican nominee for Governor, it’s time to take a quick stock of winners and losers during this process.

Losers – Virginia Republicans

This has to be said at the top: the idiotic choices made by the State Central Committee have only hurt, not helped, the Republican Party of Virginia.

The twists and turns have been well-covered, so I won’t rehash here. Instead, let’s focus on the numbers.

Just over 30,000 votes were cast on May 8th (out of 50,000 filed, but that number is largely meaningless). There were 1.9 million Trump voters in Virginia in 2020. This means the convention attracted just 1.6% of Republican voters to participate in the Republican Party.

Granted, a primary turnout wouldn’t be in the millions either; but the last GOP Governor primary (in 2017) had 366,000 votes – over TEN times as many that participated in the GOP nomination this year.

Consider that 366,000 a low-water mark, as well. The 2017 Primary was a one-sided affair with Corey Stewart launching attacks from the right and Gillespie (assuming the nomination was safely in hand) largely ignoring and sitting on his war chest. Compare that to two millionaires battling it out, with others also trying to capture the Trump excitement, all driving up turnout.

Imagine nearly half-a-million Republican voters showing up, engaging with the party and the candidates, including our eventual nominees, and providing that as a jumping-off point to reach the rest. Instead, the nomination barely reached a fraction of the electorate, and resulted in the unfortunate few being bombarded with endless mailers and text messages, with so few voters for these well-funded campaigns to spend on.

The Republican Party’s 0-for streak in Virginia statewide elections is well-documented; this is exactly the wrong moment to decide to exclude as many people as possible from the Republican Party. That is what SCC voted to do – excluding people from the party is literally the stated purpose of a convention. Mission accomplished. The party is much worse off for it.

Winner – Glenn Youngkin

The conventional wisdom was that Amanda Chase would benefit from a primary, largely from the lack of need to win a majority of Republicans (something her antics have made impossible). Looking at the campaign that Glenn Younkin and Garrison Coward ran, I think that conventional wisdom needs to be challenged.

From the moment Glenn got into the race until the last filing deadline, the Youngkin machine was efficient and effective as hell expanding the pool of possible voters. That’s exactly what smart campaigns do – as an investor, Glenn understands that politics is a numbers game. That was Part 1.

The Youngkin campaign ran circles around all the other statewide offices, easily filing the most number of delegates. After that, no other candidate could possibly beat Youngkin – the only path to defeat was not getting their filed delegates to turn out. That was Part 2.

In retrospect, this race was over at the filing deadline. The most organized campaign that spent the most effectively won, and deservedly so. I doubt that result changes in a primary.

Winners – HoD candidates

Make no mistake, there is a real shot for Republicans to take back the House of Delegates this cycle. The key question that will determine the outcome is turnout – in 2017 and 2019, sky-high Democratic turnout carried them to victory. Is the same turnout achievable post-Trump? Only time will tell.

For the many House of Delegates challengers, the turnout question that occupies them are two-fold: 1) will the GOP get massively outspent again? and 2) will the GOP ticket be too toxic to reach persuadable voters? With the convention results, the answers are No and No.

Youngkin is a self-funder, and will attract more fundraising, for his campaign and the entire ticket. That’s great news for the top GOP challengers across the state. Candidates also avoid an anchor at the top of the ballot from a toxic candidate. There should be all smiles in the House Caucus today.

Loser – Pete Snyder

If you squint, Pete’s strategy of reshaping his identity from a media consultant for Democrats and Republicans alike in the 2000s, to a moderate business-minded technocrat in the 2010s, to a “conservative outlaw” in 2021, makes a certain amount of sense. With Amanda Chase alienating even arch-conservative voters with her antics and Kirk Cox locking down the moderate track, this left Snyder plenty of room to move right while still maintaining mainstream credibility.

That all changed when a competing millionaire entered the race, matching Snyder’s ability to self-fund while staking a better claim to the mainstream vote. This just left Snyder with his “conservative outlaw” schtick, like a pair of ill-fitting cowboy boots.

Snyder, however, felt his competition was Chase, the “Trump in Heels,” and went hard after what he imagined a Trump voter would like. So Snyder locked down the E.W. Jackson endorsement, the Ken Cuccinelli endorsement, and the Bob Good endorsement, just months after Good declared COVID-19 to be “phony,” then voted to overturn the results of the election.

The Snyder campaign resembled a man without a country. Snyder damaged his mainstream credibility that would let him expand the pool of voters, as Youngkin did, but his endorsements (including his prized endorsement from Sarah Huckabee Sanders) only antagonized Chase and her cadre of die-hard loyalists, who thought the entire thing (including swinging votes on SCC to guarantee an ill-advised convention) reeked of machination.

It’s no surprise that Youngkin got more 2nd-choice votes from 3 of the 4 other candidates before splitting the Chase vote 50/50 at the end, despite the lack of ideological overlap.

In the end, Youngkin dominated the places that were supposed to be Snyder’s strength, crushing Snyder in NoVa, Hampton Roads, Henrico, and even the Valley. Snyder’s strategy may have worked if Youngkin didn’t run, but the campaign identified the wrong candidate as their top threat.

Losers – LG candidates

After spending a day counting the Attorney General race, impatient observers petitioned to move up counting for the Governors race and bump LG to last. Now the headlines are being made last night, with little room or interest left over for tonight’s results.

No matter. So far, on the Democratic side, the only news has been the incumbent, Justin Fairfax, comparing his two credible sexual assault allegations to being lynched like Emmitt Till. On the Republican side, the most attention came when a mysterious mailer accused one candidate of being a “Gay Liberal Democrat” (Tim Hugo denied his campaign sent it, and Glenn Davis accepted his denial). This race, and position, will continue to be an afterthought. Sad!

Winner – VPAP

Kudos to RPV for making the Google Sheet tracking the results sharable so everyone could follow along. But holy hell was it difficult to make sense of.

Fortunately, VPAP was able to put together amazing data visualization, including maps and ranked-choice allocations, within minutes. In short order, everyone was just getting their updates from VPAP, even if it was a few minutes behind the Google Sheet.

Great work as always, guys!

Winners – RPV & Convention Site Leaders

As much as I’ve complained about the vote to have a convention (and I’ll never stop doing it), I must say that the process itself went very smoothly. I only saw firsthand my own voting location in Prince William County, which was efficiently run with room for all, and great volunteers making sure everything was in order. Kudos go to PWC Chairman Tim Parrish and Site Leader Bill Card.

Likewise, reports from across the state show similar experiences across the Commonwealth, with no major issues reported. Reporters hoping to report on chaos and disorder were left disappointed. Candidates looking for grounds to appeal or sue were similarly left empty-handed. The most contentious debate ended up being whether campaign observers would be allowed to ride in the car of site leaders as they transported ballots to Richmond. (They were not.)

Despite my low expectations, it turns out we could make parking lots work after all!

Similarly, the counting process was initially mildly maligned for potentially taking days to count the results. However, the process has been completely open and transparent, leaving no doubt or lingering questions. In addition, the day-by-day style has captivated election observers and the media, giving attention on each race with a focus and length of time that simply doesn’t exist on quick and crowded election nights.

Kudos to Chairman Rich Anderson for making the absolute best out of the absolutely terrible situation that SCC foisted upon him.

Loser – John Findlay

On a final note, congratulations to John Findlay, former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia, for accepting a similar but lesser post as the Executive Director of the Republican Party of West Virginia, a state with far fewer people and competitive elections.

Findlay is most remembered as the “enforcer” for former Chair John Whitbeck, closely monitoring social media and communications for anything that could be perceived as a negative word against how RPV was being run, and quickly trying to out and ostracize any offending parties. Now, he dresses in costumes and calls the current RPV Chairman a “clown:”

Findlay was cosplaying in his official role for the Amanda Chase campaign. This is how he showed up on the first day, when only the Attorney General results were being counted. Perhaps he was setting the stage for anticipated conflict that would never come, due to Anderson’s smooth running of the vote counting. Either way, Findlay’s message wasn’t even echoed by his own campaign:

It remains to be seen if Amanda Chase will seek to raise havoc after coming in a distant 3rd place for the nomination. She had previously promised to run as an Independent if Pete Snyder won the nomination; presumably in that situation, Findlay would turn down the job in West Virginia to keep dressing up in costumes for Chase’s campaign.

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