Republican Party of Virginia
Current elected officials
Republicans are the minority in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate, and four of the eleven U.S. House seats are held by Republicans.
Members of Congress
Both of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats have been held by Democrats since 2008. John Warner was the last Republican to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate. First elected in 1978, Warner opted to retire instead of seeking a sixth term. Former Governor Jim Gilmore ran as the Republican nominee in the 2008 election and was subsequently defeated by Democratic challenger Mark Warner who has held the seat since.
U.S. House of Representatives
Out of the 11 seats Virginia is apportioned in the U.S. House of Representatives, 4 are held by Republicans:
Virginia has not elected any GOP candidates to statewide office since 2009, when Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli were elected as governor and attorney general, respectively, and Bill Bolling was re-elected as lieutenant governor. In 2013, term limits prevented McDonnell from seeking re-election to a second consecutive term. Both Cuccinelli and Bolling opted not to run for re-election to their respective positions, instead competing against each other for the Republican nomination for Governor until Bolling suspended his campaign, leaving Cuccinelli as the de facto nominee. Cuccinelli was subsequently defeated in the general election by Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe. State senator Mark Obenshain ran as the Republican nominee for attorney general in 2013 and was subsequently defeated by Democratic challenger Mark Herring while E. W. Jackson ran as the Republican nominee in the 2013 lieutenant governor race, losing to Democratic challenger Ralph Northam.
Kate Obenshain Griffin of Winchester became the party’s chairman in 2004. Following Senator George Allen’s unsuccessful 2006 reelection bid, Griffin submitted her resignation as Chairman effective November 15, 2006. Her brother, Mark Obenshain, is a State Senator from Harrisonburg in the Virginia General Assembly. Both are the children of the late Richard D. Obenshain.
Ed Gillespie was elected as the new Chairman of the RPV on December 2, 2006. He resigned on June 13, 2007 to become the counselor to President George W. Bush. Mike Thomas served as interim chairman until July 21 when former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia John H. Hager was elected chairman. On April 9, 2007 the RPV named Fred Malek to serve as the Finance Chairman and Lisa Gable to serve as the Finance Committee Co-Chair.
On May 31, 2008, Hager was defeated in his bid for re-election at a statewide GOP convention by a strongly conservative member of the House of Delegates, Jeff Frederick of Prince William County. Frederick, who was then 32 years old, was the fifth party chairman in five years. On April 4, 2009, Frederick was removed from the position by RPV’s State Central Committee, in a move backed by most of the senior GOP establishment. Many argued that Frederick’s election and later removal was a war within the party between insiders and outsiders, or grassroots versus establishment Republicans. After his removal, Frederick considered seeking the chairman job again at the party’s May 2009 convention, but decided against it. Pat Mullins, who was then the chairman of the Louisa County party unit and formerly the chairman of the Fairfax County party unit, was selected on May 2, 2009 to serve in the interim before a special election at state party convention later that month. Mullins won the special election at the May 30, 2009 convention, defeating Bill Stanley, the Franklin County chairman. Mullins was re-elected at the party’s June 2012 convention. Mullins announced his retirement on November 5, 2014, a day after the Virginia GOP had a strong showing in the 2014 elections. 10th District Republican Committee chairman John Whitbeck was elected on January 24, 2015 by the party’s State Central Committee to serve out the remainder of Mullins’s term.
Whitbeck faced a challenge for the chairmanship for the 2016 election at the party’s state convention from Vince Haley, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for state senate in the 12th state Senate district in 2015. Haley withdrew his candidacy in early 2016, then tried to re-enter before the convention. At the convention, the party nominations committee ruled that Haley did not qualify to seek the office, and Whitbeck was re-elected unopposed to a full four-year term.
Organization and candidate selection
The State Party Plan specifies the organization of the state party and how candidates will be selected. The 79-member State Central Committee sets the policy and plans for the party between larger State Conventions, which gather at least once every four years.
Candidates for elective office can be selected by (1) mass meetings, (2) party canvasses, (3) conventions, or (4) primaries. A mass meeting consists of a meeting where any participants must remain until votes are taken at the end. A party canvass or “firehouse primary” allows participants to arrive anytime during announced polling hours, cast a secret ballot, and then leave. A convention includes a process for selecting delegates, and then only the delegates may vote. Mass meetings, party canvasses and conventions are conducted by party officials and volunteers. Primaries are administered by the State Board of Elections at all established polling places. Because Virginia does not have party registrations, participation in primaries are open to any register voter regardless of party. However, on June 15, 2006, the Plan was amended to redefine a primary:
“Primary” is as defined in and subject to the Election Laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, except to the extent that any provisions of such laws conflict with this Plan, infringe the right to freedom of association, or are otherwise invalid.
At the same time, the Plan was amended to require participants in any of the candidate selection methods to “express in open meeting either orally or in writing as may be required their intent to support all [Republican] nominees for public office in the ensuing election”.
The candidate selection process has been criticized as favoring “party insiders” and disfavoring moderate candidates. For example, both Jim Gilmore and the more moderate Thomas M. Davis were seeking the 2008 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. However, two weeks following the decision that the candidate will be selected at a convention instead of a primary, Davis announced that he would not seek the nomination.
Open primary litigation
Virginia does not provide for voters to register by party. Virginia law requires “open” primaries that are not restricted based on party registration:
All persons qualified to vote… may vote at the primary. No person shall vote for the candidates of more than one party.
In 2004, the Republican Party amended the State Party Plan to attempt to restrict participation in primaries to exclude voters who had voted in a Democratic primary after March 1, 2004, or in the last five years, whichever is more recent. In August 2004, Stephen Martin, an incumbent State Senator, designated that the Republican candidate for his seat in the November 2007 election should be selected by primary. The Republicans then sued the State Board of Elections demanding a closed primary be held, with taxpayer funding of a mechanism to exclude voters who had participated in past Democratic primaries.
The Federal District Court dismissed the suit on standing and ripeness grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed and sent the case back for a trial on its merits. The District Court then ruled that the rule forcing a party to accept the choice of its incumbent office holder of an open primary was unconstitutional. The state could continue to hold open primaries if a party opted for a primary instead of a mass meeting, party canvass, or convention to choose its nominees. On October 1, 2007, the Fourth Circuit affirmed this holding, which largely left Virginia’s primary system intact, striking down only the rule allowing an incumbent officeholder to choose an open primary over the objection of his or her party.
The Republican State Central Committee dropped plans to require voters to sign a loyalty oath before voting in the February 2008 Presidential Primary. The party had proposed to require each voter to sign a pledge stating “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for President.” However, there was no way to enforce the pledge, and the proposal caused vocal public opposition.
At a March 20, 2014 mass meeting, John Ferguson defeated Leslie Williams to become Chair of the Campbell County Republican Committee. Williams unsuccessfully challenged the meeting before the county committee and the Fifth Congressional District Republican Committee. However, the State Central Committee overturned the vote on the grounds that school teachers and public employees participated in the meeting and that they must have been Democrats. In response, Ferguson and the other party officials that were elected filed a lawsuit to block a new mass meeting to fill the seats.
Richard D. Obenshain Center
The party headquarters building is named the Richard D. Obenshain Center in memory of Richard D. Obenshain (1936–1978), the State Party Chairman who beginning in 1972, helped lead the party’s renaissance in Virginia following 95 years of virtual control by the State’s Democratic Party (since Reconstruction except when William Mahone and the Readjuster Party coalition dominated affairs for a few years).
In 1978, “Dick” Obenshain had won the party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate to replace retiring Senator William Scott when the 42-year-old candidate and two others were killed in an airplane crash of a twin engine aircraft on August 2, 1978 while attempting a night landing at the Chesterfield County Airport. They had been returning to Richmond from a campaign appearance.
While Virginia Republicans take positions on a wide variety of issues, some of the noteworthy ones include:
- Health care: House Republicans have rejected various proposals to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to serve low-income Virginians, in both the regular and a 2014 special session of the legislature. The Party challenged the federal requirement that all adults have health insurance. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates approved a bill to drop the requirement that sixth grade girls be vaccinated against HPV.
- Religion: The Party creed states, “That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers, is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.”
- Immigration: Offered legislation to limit government services, such as in-state tuition at state colleges, to undocumented residents. State and local law enforcement should cooperate in enforcing immigration laws.
- Transportation: Opposed funding transportation needs through increases in taxes and/or fees, offered abusive driver fees as an alternative revenue source; seeks to fund projects through bonds which will be funded from future general funds. The Republican leadership has announced that it will resist any new taxes during the special session called for June 23, 2008 to fund transportation needs. In May 2010, Virginia applied to the Federal Highway Administration to erect tollbooths on I-95 near the North Carolina border to help finance road maintenance.
- Pre-Kindergarten education: Opposed Governor Kaine’s initiative to fund pre-kindergarten education.
- Handgun control: Expanded the rights to carry concealed handguns and eased the process for issuing concealed weapon permits; oppose background checks for weapons purchased at gun shows.
- Judiciary: Blocked judicial appointments in the 2007 legislative session.
- Voting rights: Defeated “early voting proposals” to allow voters to vote in-person at the County Registrars 45-days before election day
- Tobacco: Defeated measures to restrict smoking rights or raise the tax on cigarettes.
- Arts and culture: The Republican 2010 budget proposal sought to end long-standing state funding of the arts and defunded the Virginia Commission for the Arts. After a conference with the Virginia Senate, the final budget cut the Commission to 16% below its 2009 levels.
- Offshore drilling: Supports drilling for oil and gas in federal waters 50 miles off the Virginia coast.
- Public employee pensions: The approved 2010 budget delays payments to the pension fund, effectively borrowing $620 million from the fund while promising to start repaying in 2013 with 7.5% interest. The budget also increases the retirement age for new hires, and recalculates benefits for new hires. New hires will also have to pay a 5% contribution to the pension. However, the state will continue to pay for employee contributions for current employees. A separate bill, HB 610 sponsored by Harry R. Purkey (R), would have placed all new hires on a defined contribution pension plan.
- Same-sex marriage: Advocated and successfully passed a 2006 amendment to the Virginia Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Unsuccessfully fought legal challenges that overturned that prohibition.
- Unemployment benefits: In a special session of the legislature held on April 8, 2009, to consider extending unemployment benefits in order to implement the federal stimulus package, the Republicans voted along party lines, 53 to 46 in the House of Delegates to defeat the proposal. Two Republican delegates from high unemployment districts voted in favor of Kaine’s proposal.
- Discrimination: Since 1978, each Governor issues an executive order barring discrimination in the state workforce shortly after their inaugurations. The executive orders issued by Governors Warner and Kaine barred discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation.” However, McDonnell refused to issue such an order for his administration. On March 10, 2010, in response to public criticism after Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli wrote an opinion letter invalidating state college policies against employment discrimination, Governor McDonnell issued a directive prohibiting discrimination in the state workforce, including on the basis of sexual orientation. Unlike the prior executive orders, McDonnell’s directive does not have the force of law.
- Environment: On February 16, 2010, Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II filed at the United States Environmental Protection Agency a request to reopen its proceeding regarding EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. He also sought judicial review of EPA’s finding in federal court. As a result, Virginia joins Texas as the only states seeking to attack the EPA’s actions. His press statement explained, “We cannot allow unelected bureaucrats with political agendas to use falsified data to regulate American industry and drive our economy into the ground.”
- Confederate History Month: Governor Robert McDonnell issued a proclamation designating April 2010 as “Confederate History Month” following similar designations by two of his Republican predecessors, George Allen and James S. Gilmore. However, the last two governors, who were Democrats, did not designate such a month. Unlike Gilmore’s proclamation, which included anti-slavery language, McDonnell left out any mention of slavery, drawing condemnation by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP.
- Nullification of federal legislation: On September 16, 2010, Bill Howell (R-Stafford), Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, wrote an online Wall Street Journal editorial advocating an amendment to the United States Constitution to give state legislatures the power to repeal federal legislation. Under the proposal, if two-thirds of the state legislatures agree, any federal law enacted by Congress and the President would be nullified or amended. Howell announced that he will introduce legislation in the 2011 General Assembly to advocate such an amendment. The Republicans advocated in favor of the amendment during the 2011 session.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in the 2008 presidential election, taking 1.96 million votes (52.6%) to Republican nominee John McCain‘s 1.73 million votes (46.3%). Democrat Mark Warner soundly defeated Republican Jim Gilmore in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race by a margin of 65%-34%. In the House elections, two Republican incumbents, Virgil Goode and Thelma Drake, were unseated, with Goode losing to Democrat Tom Perriello by just 727 votes. Democrat Gerry Connolly took the open seat held by the retiring Republican Tom Davis. As a result of the 2008 elections, Democrats took control of both the state’s U.S. Senate seats and the state’s House delegation.
The Republican Party sought to reverse its November 2008 losses in a series of special elections, which historically draw low voter turnout. In the January 13 special election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Delegate Brian Moran to run for Governor, Democrat Charniele Herring became the first African-American woman from Northern Virginia to be elected to the House of Delegates, defeating Republican candidate Joe Murray by 16 votes. She was seated on Jan. 26, following repeated efforts by the Republican caucus to delay her seating until a recount could be completed. Because Gerry Connolly was elected to Congress from the 11th District, a special election was held on February 3 to fill his seat as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. In that election, about 16% of the registered voters participated, and Democrat Sharon Bulova defeated Republican by 1,206 votes. Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Party told the Washington Post, “In November, we got our clocks cleaned. Three months later, even in a special this was a squeaker. That’s good news for Republicans.” Another special election was held to fill Bulova’s Braddock District board seat on March 10. Republican John Cook won the seat by 89 votes.
Virginia and New Jersey were the only states to hold statewide general elections in 2009. The Republicans selected their candidates at a State Convention held on May 29–30, 2009 in Richmond. Former Attorney General of Virginia Bob McDonnell was nominated for Governor. “His candidacy is part of a Republican renaissance that starts this year in Virginia,” said Michael Steele chair of the Republican National Committee. Incumbent Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who declined to run for governor to avoid a primary fight with McDonnell, defeated Patrick Muldoon for the Lieutenant Governor nomination. State Senator Ken Cuccinelli, who the Washington Post described as “one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly,” defeated John Brownlee and for the Attorney General nomination.
All 100 House seats were up for election in 2009. Republicans took nine seats held by Democrats while just one Democrat took a seat held by a Republican, for a net gain of eight seats and a 59-seat majority.
On January 12, 2010, in a special election for the 37th State Senate district, Democrat Dave W. Marsden beat Republican Steve M. Hunt by a 327-vote margin. In the 8th State Senate district, Republican Jeff L. McWaters beat Democrat William W. “Bill” Fleming by a vote of 78-21%. On March 2, 2010, Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn was elected to fill Marsden’s Delegate seat by 37 votes, out of 11,528 cast. Because the vote margin was within 0.5%, the state will pay for a recount. She was sworn in on March 3, 2010 after her opponent dropped his plans to request a recount.
All of the state’s 11 U.S. House seats were up for election in 2010 (neither U.S. Senate seat was up for election). Republicans picked up three seats held by Democrats. Auto dealer Scott Rigell defeated freshman Democratic incumbent Glenn Nye 53%-42% in the 2nd District. Attorney Robert Hurt defeated freshman Democratic incumbent Tom Perriello 51%-47% in the 5th District. And House of Delegates Majority Leader Morgan Griffith defeated 28-year Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher 51%-46% in the 9th District. With the election, Republicans now hold 8 of Virginia’s 11 House seats.
On November 8, 2011, Republicans took control of the State Senate with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling as the tie breaking vote and increased their majority in the State House to a 68-seat vote margin, making it the Republican Party’s largest House majority in history. It was the second time since the Reconstruction Era that the Republican Party simultaneously had a majority in the State House, a majority in the State Senate, and a sitting governor.
Only two of six candidates for the Republican nomination for president qualified for the ballot for the March 6, 2012 presidential primary in Virginia after failing to meet Virginia’s strict ballot requirements. Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul appeared on the ballot, and Romney received 60% of the vote to Paul’s 40%, with over 265,000 votes cast.
Four candidates ran in the primary for the nomination for U.S. Senate in the 2012 election to replace Jim Webb. Former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen, who lost his Senate seat in 2006 to Webb, won the nomination with 65% of the vote in the June 2012 primary.
In the November general election, Allen lost to Tim Kaine by a margin of 53%-47%, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost Virginia to Barack Obama by a margin of 51%-47%. The party held on to its eight Virginia seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2013, the party nominated Ken Cuccinelli for governor, E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor, and Mark Obenshain for attorney general at a convention in Richmond. All three candidates lost to their Democratic opponents. Cuccinelli lost to Terry McAuliffe by a margin of 2.5%, and Obenshain lost to Mark Herring by a margin of 0.04%, in a race that required a recount. The party gained two seats in the House of Delegates.
The party’s governing body voted in May 2013 to select its 2014 U.S. Senate nominee at a convention, which was held on June 7, 2014 in Roanoke, Virginia. Ed Gillespie won the nomination, defeating three other candidates. Gillespie lost the November general election to Mark Warner by a margin of 0.8%. The party retained its 8-3 U.S. House seat majority.
Over one million voters participated in the March 1, 2016 state-run Virginia Republican presidential primary, under which the party’s 49 delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention were allocated proportionally. Donald Trump placed first with 35% of the vote, followed by Marco Rubio (32%), Ted Cruz (17%), John Kasich (10%), and Ben Carson (6%).
The party held its quadrennial convention in Roanoke and elected 13 at-large delegates to the Republican National Convention, 10 of which pledged to support Ted Cruz in the event of a contested convention.
The day after the 2016 general election, the RPV’s headquarters in Richmond were vandalized by protestors who broke windows and the doorbell, attempted to kick in the door, and wrote graffiti on the walls. RPV Chairman John Whitbeck blamed the “hateful rhetoric” of Democrats as the cause of the violence.
The Republican party lost 15 seats in the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates election. In 2018 the party lost three seats in the House of Representatives elections. In 2019, the party lost their majorities in the House of Delegates and State Senate.
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- Virginia elections, 2009
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- Republican Party of Virginia
- College Republican Federation of Virginia
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