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Virginia gubernatorial candidates focus on ‘electoral integrity’ in big post-Trump contest

“Electoral integrity has been a major message that people worry about, given some of the allegations that arose out of last year’s election,” said Geary Higgins, Republican 10th District congressional committee chairman. who remained neutral during the primary. “It’s a broader electoral integrity, but also a concern for integrity in this process. So it’s kind of a two-pronged thing.

Meanwhile, the Republican nomination process itself has been marked by disputes over how to choose the party’s standard bearer, conflict over whether to have a state-run primary or a convention-led convention. the party to questions about how the ballots are ultimately counted.

There are seven Republican gubernatorial candidates on the ballot this year, and the consensus among the more than half a dozen Virginia Republican officials who spoke to POLITICO is that four are in the high end: businessmen Pete Snyder and Glenn Youngkin, former Speaker of the State House Kirk Cox and State Senator Amanda Chase.

Chase has been Trump’s most explicit and straightforward lie about the election while proactively seeking his support, while Snyder and Youngkin have both launched “electoral integrity” plans or task forces in the election. start of their campaigns.

Cox also put forward proposals under the banner of electoral integrity – but a spokesperson for Cox noted that he was the only “Republican candidate in the race to recognize President Biden as a legitimate president,” which he said. made after the electoral college count in the states. in December.

“Unfortunately, for too many Virginians, be they Republicans, Democrats or Independents, confidence in our electoral system has been severely tested and [sic] due to many last minute changes related to Covid in our voting systems, ”Snyder said in a statement when he launched his plan. “The government has failed to provide the transparency and accountability expected of voters.”

The campaigns of Youngkin, Snyder and Cox have all refused to make their candidate available for an interview on their election proposals and confidence in the state party process, citing busy schedules in the final days leading up to the convention. Chase’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Former GOP Representative Denver Riggleman, who has become a leading critic of the Trump-era Republican Party, said the emphasis on electoral integrity messages was damaging to the state and the party.

“We can have an honest discussion about ‘electoral integrity’, if that wasn’t a generic term for ‘Stop the Steal’ right now across the Commonwealth,” he said, calling it less. a “wink and a nod” than a “face pie.”

“If a candidate did not run on electoral integrity, because I saw the local ballot, he would lose,” added Riggleman.

The former lawmaker launched his candidacy for governor as an independent. He told POLITICO that he “leans towards the negative” when running, but that he still had time to decide.

Republicans are also grappling with the end of a controversial months-long fight over how the party will ultimately choose its statewide candidates. After backlash between the pro-primary and pro-convention wings of the state’s central committee, the party opted for this weekend’s “unassembled convention”, with a priority vote.

People who wanted to vote at the convention had to pre-register in advance, and the State party said around 54,000 people had done so. They will vote on Saturday at 39 venues across the state, after which the ballots will be brought back to Richmond for the count, which begins on Sunday. The ranking choice system will reallocate support from the candidates with the fewest votes to those delegates’ next choices until someone gets a majority.

An additional problem is that counties get a certain number of “delegates” based on the population and past performance of Republicans in the region, which means that the total “gross vote” for each polling location will not determine the number. winner.

Republicans in Virginia are wary of turnout or outcome predictions due to the unusual system, noting that this is a fractured field, even among the top four candidates, with a new process. Those who have spoken to POLITICO unanimously agree that it will take several laps to determine a winner, with the voters’ second or third choice being decisive in the race.

Kristi Way, the party’s first vice president and Cox supporter, recalled how EW Jackson dominated the convention in person in 2013 to win the lieutenant governor’s nomination after several rounds of voting. “He got up there, he gave a buzzing speech,” she said. “There you go, EW Jackson was the nominee when no one thought it was a possibility to enter the room.”

But this last-minute haggling and election campaign won’t be an option for candidates this year, with voters having to fill out their ballots in advance. “I think it’s going to be sort of a simpler outcome than when you allow the dynamics in a room to take over,” Way continued. “Not having that, I think, takes a lot of emotion out of the decision.”

There are also concerns that the new process could create room for discord on the part of a candidate on the losing side of the ledger. Chase has consistently denounced the nomination process, accusing Snyder of stacking the game in his favor. Chase – a self-styled ‘Trump in heels’ who was censored by his Senate colleagues after praising the Jan.6 insurgents and spreading electoral conspiracy theories – threatened to run as an independent if Snyder won the nomination.

The party plans to begin the count on Sunday, the day after the poll, starting at the bottom of the poll: first attorney general, then lieutenant governor, then governor. Officials hope the process ends as soon as possible, but expect several days of manual ballot counting.

“I know some party officials are talking about it later in the week, but I think it would be really hard for the party and quite hard for the prospective candidate to make it last that long,” State Senator Steve said. Newman, a supporter. de Youngkin, who said he hoped the process would end soon.

Virginia Republican Party officials also said they were confident in the process: “We have taken so many steps to make sure this is a well-run, functional and transparent convention,” said John March, a door – speech of the party.

Democrats will not select their candidate until June, when a group of five candidates will compete in the state-led single-member primary. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is the favorite in the polls available, with the other four field candidates failing to come out in a month.

Many Republicans were eager to get another crack in McAuliffe, who edged out then Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, believing him to be a well-defined candidate who will not animate the Democratic base.

But it’s also important for Republicans to quickly rally around their candidate in a state Republicans have struggled to win statewide for the past decade. “It’s going to be very, very prepared and very well funded, and we’ll have to come together quickly,” Newman said. “And then if we do that and we have the proper funding, I think we have a great chance to take back Virginia.”

But Democrats say that regardless of who wins the Republican nomination, they won’t be able to successfully carry swing voters while retaining their base in November – citing the Republicans’ speech on “electoral integrity” as a excellent example.

“Even if they don’t mention Trump by name in a video, they are pushing the exact policies that his base demands to follow in order to gain credibility, whether it’s voter integrity,” The Big Lie, “whether this is not believing science and COVID,” said Marshall Cohen, the political director of the Democratic Governors Association, on a call with reporters earlier this week.

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