Virginia state senator Amanda Chase is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, and win, lose, or draw in that contest, she’s determined to do what she can to sink the state party’s chances in the general election this November.
A two-term legislator representing a reliably red district, Chase is probably best known for covering herself with glory in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. In a Facebook post addressed to Joe Biden last December, she wrote:
The American people aren’t fools. We know you cheated to win and we’ll never accept these results. Fair elections we can accept but cheating to win; never. It’s not over yet. So thankful President Trump has a backbone and refuses to concede. President Trump should declare martial law as recommended by General Flynn.
Then in an interview with Fox News, Chase doubled down, conceding that while “you never want to suspend the Constitution,” it was an option that would have to be considered “if we get into an extreme situation where we feel like the Democratic Party has committed treason.” She also attended the rally that preceded the January 6 Capitol riot and refused to condemn the violence of that day, calling its participants “patriots who love their country and do not want to see our great republic turn into a socialist country.” A self-styled “Trump in heels,” Chase is already channeling the former president’s sore-loserism ahead of the state GOP’s convention on Saturday, during which the party will select its nominee for governor.
Among the other viable candidates for the nomination are businessmen Pete Snyder and Glenn Youngkin, as well as former House of Delegates speaker Kirk Cox. Sergio de la Peña, Octavia Johnson, and Peter Doran are also running long-shot campaigns. But it’s nearly impossible to predict who will come out on top given the convention-style selection process and ranked-choice voting system within it.
In Virginia, parties have the option to choose between a state-run primary and party-run convention when picking their nominees. Republicans have alternated between the two over the last several cycles. In 2013, Ken Cuccinelli was selected at a nominating convention. Four years later, Ed Gillespie triumphed in a statewide primary. This year, Republicans have opted to return to a convention, albeit a different kind. Instead of being an event at a singular location in Richmond and having the gubernatorial nominee confirmed by acclamation as happened in 2013, this year’s convention will occur at a number of different locations and include more than 53,000 delegates who will cast ranked-choice ballots — a process that cannot credibly be compared to the smoke-filled rooms of old.
But that’s nevertheless what Chase is doing. Since the state party settled on its preferred method for this cycle, Chase has been throwing a long-form temper tantrum, first suing the state party in an attempt to force them into holding a state-run primary — an ironic fix, given her claims that the state’s electoral system was compromised in 2020. After falling short in the courtroom, Chase has settled for using that failure as a political weapon. According to NPR, Chase’s campaign has been leaning on fundraising emails insisting that “the fix is in” and claiming to have “proof of corruption.”
Chase’s contention that the mere choice of a convention over a primary constitutes an establishment-led conspiracy to deny her the nomination is even more ironic when you consider the history of such decisions. In the past, conventions were the preference of firebrands and gadflies. The Washington Post reported back in 2016 that the choice of a “primary embittered some grass-roots activists because the party had recommended making its 2017 picks by convention,” which was believed to be “a format that tends to favor conservative candidates.” Now, it’d be a mistake to classify Chase as a “conservative” in any classical sense, but one would have expected her to favor this more intimate method of picking a nominee.
The last decade or so has not been kind to Virginia’s Republicans. Their last gubernatorial victory came in 2009 and their last envoy to the United States Senate was John Warner, who retired that same year. In 2019, the party lost control of the House of Delegates for the first since the turn of the millennium. Part of this is attributable to changes in the state’s electorate and a national suburban turn toward the Democrats. But Republicans bear much of the blame as well. In recent years especially, the party has lurched not toward the Barry Goldwater–Ronald Reagan conservative right, but the fever-swampish Gateway Pundit right.
This lurch has manifested itself in the struggling state-party apparatus, but it’s been most damaging when personified by major candidates like Corey Stewart, a longtime immigration hawk who also, for instance, “just asks questions” about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Stewart lost to Tim Kaine by 16 points in 2018’s Senate race. If Chase or a candidate who channels some of her worst tendencies wins the nomination, Republicans can expect the same result and a similar margin in the upcoming contest for the governor’s mansion.
If they’re to have a fighting chance at retaking it, the delegates to Saturday’s convention should choose wisely, the nominee should run a disciplined campaign, and conservative voters should not punish them for doing so. That doesn’t mean running on a squishy centrist platform, but it does mean making appeals beyond “the base” and preventing Chase — who has threatened an independent run — from pressuring them into making outrageous statements that will alienate suburbanites and further enshrine the Virginia GOP as a Washington Generals–caliber opponent for state Democrats.