Virginia Republicans Opt for Less Democratic Methods to Choose Their Nominees for General Assembly

FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks prior to signing the budget at a ceremony at a grocery store June 21, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Youngkin is set to issue a third round of endorsements in Virginia legislative races, backing 19 more Republican candidates, including six who are in contested primaries. Among those set to receive the governor’s backing Thursday, May 18, 2023 are Emily Brewer and Tara Durant, both members of the House of Delegates facing spirited challenges for the GOP nomination in state Senate races.(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

By Carolyn Fiddler

May 18, 2023

Virginia’s official state-run primary elections will be held on June 20, but many Republicans have already selected their nominees for this fall’s state legislative election in other ways.

Virginia is notorious for having elections every single year. As an odd-numbered year, 2023 will see all 100 state House and all 40 state Senate seats on the ballot in November. But voters in some of these state legislative districts will select their party’s nominees before autumn comes around. 

Sixteen Democratic and nine Republican House candidates as well as 15 Democratic and seven Republican Senate candidates will be chosen via state-run primary elections on June 20, 2023. 

Some local Republicans have, however, opted to select their General Assembly candidates through less democratic means, such as conventions and “firehouse primaries.” 

These types of contests typically draw a fraction of the electorate that state-run primaries turn out; conventions require voters to congregate at a single location for hours, and voters in firehouse primaries must cast ballots within a limited time window (as opposed to the 13 hours polls are open on election day) and are required to do so at only a few locations across a district. 

When selecting a candidate becomes difficult, fewer people will participate in the process. Winners of conventions and firehouse primaries tend to be the candidates favored by the most active and faithful members of the party.

Republicans are holding local conventions in four House seats and one Senate seat; GOP nominees have already been selected in three of them: Chris Obenshain in HD-41, Tim Griffin in HD-53, and Del. John McGuire in SD-10

Obenshain, a member of a powerful Virginia political family who describes himself as “unashamedly pro-life,” won the nominating convention in HD-41. Griffin overcame an attempt to disqualify him from the ballot over an alleged lack of residency (he lives in a friend’s garage), and used his victory speech at the HD-53 convention to discuss his aim “to introduce bills to outlaw abortion.” McGuire, who was in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021 – but claims he didn’t riot or enter the Capitol – won a four-way contest earlier this month. 

Local GOP committees opted for a firehouse primary (sometimes also referred to as a “mass canvass” or “unassembled caucus”) in two House districts and two Senate districts; three of the contests have already been held. 

Delores Oates, who “proudly” opposes reproductive rights, won the GOP nomination in HD-31. In HD-89, Republicans selected N. Baxter Ennis, who has said he wants to “help Governor Youngkin with his conservative agenda.” Incumbent state Sen. Bryce Reeves won the SD-28 nomination after being endorsed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Finally, Republicans will nominate seven state Senate candidates and nine House candidates in the state-run primary elections on June 20. 

In contrast, Democrats across Virginia have opted to eschew less democratic nominating methods. Instead, voters will select the party’s nominees in any seats with more than one candidate running in the June 20 primaries. (You can check out a full list of contests and candidates here.)

Early in-person voting for the June primaries is already under way at your local registrar’s office. The final day of in-person early voting is on Saturday, June 17. The deadline to apply for a primary ballot to be mailed to you is June 9, 2023. Voters can cast ballots at their usual poll location from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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