Shortly before 7 AM, a multitude of local Republicans gathered outside of the Harrisonburg GOP headquarters to depart for the 2013 state convention in Richmond. The Obenshain campaign organized this gathering. I led one of the two buses of 49 other activists. We left around 7:15 with the second bus stopping in Staunton to pick up additional supporters.
About two hours later we arrived outside the Coliseum. The scene that greeted us was daunting. On both the left and right sides of the entrance, long lines stretched seemingly forever. Outside, most of the campaigns had a table underneath a tent handing out materials. The one exception was the Davis campaign which merely had a yard sign where one would expect to find her people. This development did not bode well for the Davis campaign, which I had previously assumed would survive at least to the second ballot. In addition, there were a fair number of protesters in pink shirts from Planned Parenthood deriding the candidacy of Ken Cuccinelli.
Inside of the building each of the campaigns had an additional informational table, as did a multitude of other organizations such as The Leadership Institute, Middle Resolution PAC, and others.
In the auditorium itself, each delegate was grouped according to the city or county from which he or she came. This year, the placement of each locality depended upon the percentage of their delegates who paid the voluntary $35 fee. This change resulted in Harrisonburg city holding the choicest spot on the convention floor, front and center. Delegates from Rockingham and Augusta Counties, regions whose delegates also strongly supported Senator Mark Obenshain, flanked Harrisonburg.
After many lengthy speeches from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Ken Cuccinelli, and the various candidates running for the Republican nomination, voting could begin. Although announced ahead of time, it was interesting that neither Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell nor Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling attended Saturday’s convention. As an additional note, former Representative Allen West spoke on behalf of Delegate Scott Lingamfelter and Ollie North encouraged delegates to support Pete Snyder.
Voting on the first ballot began about 1 PM or so, but the results were not announced until almost four hours later due to either technical difficulties or a recount requested by the Snyder campaign if the rumors circulating were true. Although the official tallies were not released due to Delegate Rob Bell’s request to withdraw his candidacy, Senator Mark Obenshain became the official nominee for attorney general. On the race for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson captured an early lead, winning 3,732 votes, about twice as many votes as his closest rival, Susan Stimpson. Corey Stewart finished third, followed by Pete Snyder, Scott Lingamfelter, Jeannemarie Davis, and finally Steve Martin. As no candidate received a majority of the votes, Martin and Davis were eliminated and delegates voted again. Unfortunately, the official numbers for the first ballot were not announced until after many delegates had already cast their second ballot, which likely skewed the next results as we were erroneously led to believe that Stewart placed second instead of Stimpson. Behind the scenes, the Davis campaign encouraged her supporters to rally behind Jackson.
About two hours later, voting from the second ballot was announced. Jackson increased his totals to 4,558.38, while Snyder jumped to second with 2066.89. Stewart finished third while Stimpson and Lingamfelter, with the two lowest totals, were eliminated. Lingamfelter cast his favor to Snyder while the Stimpson campaign did not recommend any particular candidate.
The results for the third ballot came one hour and forty-five minutes later. Jackson’s vote total again expanded to 5,934.69 with Snyder second with 3,652.97. At this point, E.W. Jackson had over 49% of the vote and thus his election on the next ballot was a virtual lock. The Snyder campaign passed out fliers declaring that Corey Stewart had endorsed Snyder as had Mark Obenshain. The latter revelation came as a complete shock given that Obenshain had remained silent in this race up until now, coupled with the fact that such an endorsement would be particularly foolhardy given that Jackson’s victory was all but a certainty. I spoke with both Chris Leavitt, Obenshain’s campaign manager, as well as Suzanne Obenshain, his wife, who denied any endorsement. In addition, Corey Stewart appeared and walked around the floor with Jackson with raised hands. It was terribly unfortunate that in a desperate bid to win the Snyder campaign would resort to such dirty and dishonest tactics, ploys that were all too common in the closing days of the campaign.
A little after 10 PM, Pete Snyder withdrew his candidacy and thus E.W. Jackson was declared the victor. With voting finally concluded, we returned to the bus and headed back west to our home across the mountain.
On a personal note, unlike many of the delegates, as I did not have a favorite candidate, I ended voting for three different LG candidates over the course of the day. I intended to cast my final vote for Pete, but, after his campaign spread their misinformation, I couldn’t reward deception and thus proudly cast my vote for E.W. Jackson.
All in all, it was an exciting and tiring day that went much longer than needed. However, it was filled with a bunch of surprises and uncertainty, regrettably marred by technical difficulties, a bit of misinformation, and a splash of deceit.
Given that the state central committee has selected a convention in 2014 to choose the Republican candidate for Senate, we’ll do it all again next year. Hope to see you then!