Richmond, VA — Virginia Republicans have been mired in a brutally divisive, chaotic primary this year, but one thing unites the field: an unwavering loyalty to Donald Trump and his extreme policies. The Virginia GOP primary has long been a race to the far right, with candidates tripping over each other to take the most extreme positions as they scramble to keep up with frontrunner Amanda Chase -- who is threatening to run as a third-party candidate out of anger with a “rigged” nomination process.
CBS News: Virginia Republican candidates for governor show grip Trump has on party
By Aaron Navarro
In the first statewide race since the GOP lost the White House and the Senate, Virginia's race for governor suggests that at this moment, former President Trump's influence is still strong among state Republicans.
The declared candidates have so far largely embraced Mr. Trump's rhetoric and policies with an eye toward winning the state GOP convention in May, even if doing so makes it more difficult to appeal to moderate voters in the November general election. Republicans have not won a statewide election in Virginia in over a decade, since 2009. [...]
Deciding how their nominee would be chosen has already been a headache for candidates and the Virginia Republican State Central Committee.
After months of internal debate over holding a statewide primary versus a convention, an unsuccessful lawsuit by Chase and a botched plan to hold it at Liberty University, the committee decided in March to hold an unassembled convention across 37 locations. [...]
While Mr. Trump's pet issues, like immigration and the U.S. approach to China, have been raised by some campaigns, candidates have also seized on Mr. Trump's debunked idea of an election that was "stolen" from him. [...]
[Glenn] Youngkin is tapping into doubts about the outcome of the 2020 election with his "Election Integrity Taskforce" that calls, in part, for more observers and voting machine audits. Snyder has released a similar policy plan, and has said he wants "NFL-style scouting reports" on election officials for the November election. [...]
Chase, who wears her "Trump in heels" moniker with pride and attended the "Stop the steal" rally on January 6, believes the 2020 election was "stolen" as a result of COVID-19. The "guardrails [were] taken off," she said.
But Denver Riggleman, a former Virginia congressman who lost his seat in a GOP convention primary last summer, said any candidate's messaging on election integrity "is based on bullsh*t."
"'Election integrity' is a cover term for 'Stop the Steal.' 'Stop the Steal' is a cover term for QAnon. It's based on a real conspiratorial grift that's caused a lot of damage," said Riggleman, who is still considering running for governor as an independent.
A poll by Christopher Newport University found 61% of Republicans believe Mr. Biden did not win legitimately.
Quentin Kidd, the dean of Arts and Sciences at Christopher Newport University, said the embrace of Mr. Trump and his debunked claims of massive voter fraud is the result of a candidate like Chase pushing the field to the right, and of an "echo chamber" occupied by GOP candidates and the base.
"Election integrity is the number one issue to the base. And in a race like this one, that's all you're really talking to," added Virginia Republican strategist David Alvarez. [...]
To Chase, a convention process requiring citizens to apply to be delegates in order to vote, will prevent the party from fully tapping Mr. Trump's base by November.
"If we're going to win a statewide election, we need more buy-in of our candidates, not just from the party elites," she said. "The Bush Republicans, the Cheney Republicans, they need to recognize that the people are awake and it's a new day. It's time that they understand they're here to stay and embrace them. We're not going away."
She, too, is still considering a run as a third-party candidate, out of anger with a convention process she says is already rigged. "Let's see what happens," Chase responded.