Republican candidates engage in nasty fight in 97th District

By Keya Vakil
April 23, 2019

Despite an overwhelmingly conservative record, an endorsement from the NRA,  and the support of House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Del. Chris Peace (R-Hanover) is fighting to keep his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The reason for the challenge?

Pearce’s vote to expand Medicaid.

Scott Wyatt, a Hanover County supervisor, is running a scorched earth campaign against Peace, questioning his conservative credentials in a rural, Trump-friendly district northeast of Richmond.

The race has been controversial from the start because of Wyatt’s role on the 97th District Legislative District Committee. On January 19th, the committee voted that the district’s nomination would be decided by a party-run convention instead of a primary. Wyatt’s proxy voted for a convention, and because Hanover is the most populous area of the district, it carried the most weight.

Wyatt had not indicated he intended to run for the seat at the time, and this conflict of interest prompted a Republican party official to kick Wyatt off the committee in April. Wyatt claims he asked to be removed from the committee, but says that Dale Taylor, chairwoman of the Hanover Republican Committee, didn’t follow through on his request.

The convention, which is scheduled for May 4th, would determine the party’s nominee based on the votes of 1,264 delegates.

In the lead-up to the convention, both campaigns have held a series of county-level meetings. This process has also been controversial, as some Peace supporters have accused Wyatt’s supporters of attempting to rig the process.

On April 11, Wyatt’s supporters took control of a mass meeting in Hanover County, which will account for roughly 63% of delegates at the convention. According to Peace’s campaign, Wyatt’s supporters then “slated off” Peace supporters, by listing them as convention alternates who would only vote if other delegates failed to show.

Peace also posted a video to social media that he says showed a handicapped supporter being removed from a room after challenging the proceedings.

Wyatt said the man was removed for threatening the meeting chairman and disputed that his supporters tried to prevent Peace supporters from becoming delegates, saying that some of his own supporters were listed as alternates in King William and New Kent counties, where Peace’s campaign had a stronger presence.

The Republican Party of Virginia has an anti-slating rule, but because the number of eligible delegates outnumbered the number of slots, local party units had to trim the list at the mass meetings.

In response to the April 11th meeting and its aftermath, the 97th District Legislative Committee is considering changing its plan for a convention. The Republican committee will hold a meeting on Saturday to discuss whether to change the election process to a “party-run firehouse primary” just one week before the scheduled May 4 convention.

If such a change were to happen, it would allow all Republicans in the district to vote at a designated time and place on June 11th.

Peace has said he prefers an open primary process so that the voices of all voters could be heard, while Wyatt continues to support a convention.

While the two campaigns continue to trade barbs, the campaign has also drawn the attention of leading state Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) has funded an anti-Peace flyer, prompting Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) to come to Peace’s defense, telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Peace was a “great conservative” and that by attacking each other, Republicans were running the risk of “helping to elect a far-left Democratic majority in November.”

As of now, there is no Democrat running in the 97th district, though groups like WinVirginia are trying to change that.

It would be a steep climb for any Democrat, however, as the district is heavily conservative.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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