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Primary Decision Goes Against Republican Tradition


Republicans are moving away from their longtime use of conventions to select their statewide candidates. Party leaders recently chose a statewide primary rather than a convention to select their candidate to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. 

For many years, Republicans have chosen their statewide candidates using conventions. Party leaders say it was a way to make sure that Democrats don’t interfere with their nominations, and the process was limited to a small group of very conservative party insiders. Geoff Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics says Republicans first used a statewide primary back in 1949.

“But it sort of backfired on them because the Democratic primary was really competitive, and a lot of Republicans chose to vote in the Democratic primary. So turnout in the Republican primary that year was extremely low.”

Perhaps the most infamous convention was in 2013, when the moderate candidate for governor dropped out because he realized he couldn’t win in among the ultra-conservative convention delegates. That was the convention that selected controversial minister E.W. Jackson as the candidate for lieutenant governor.

Republican strategist Dan Scandling says party leaders learned from that experience.

“I think they’ve realized that winning in November is more important than winning in June.”

Republicans that have been mentioned as possible candidates in that primary include Corey Stewart, Carly Fiorina, Laura Ingraham and Barbara Comstock.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association