Tomorrow, nearly every Virginia Republican running for statewide office in 2017 will head to the Liberty Farm Festival for the official kickoff of the 2017 GOP Dog and Pony Show. The candidates will take the stage in an effort to court the most active Republicans in the Commonwealth, rub elbows with donors, and hobnob with "special guest" Mike Pence.
Attendees will witness the kickoff of a Republican race-to-the-right and a futile attempt to mend their fractured party.
Republicans are laying the foundation for their campaign. Here's what to expect:
The Republican primary will be a race to the right.
In order to court conservative primary voters, all of the gubernatorial candidates will have to embrace far-right policies that are out-of-touch with Virginia's changing political landscape. Candidates will be engaged in a brutal race-to-the-right, embracing policies and positions that don't sit well with general election voters.
The triumph of the "grassroots" candidates in Virginia.
Look no further than recent elections in Virginia to see that primaries don't always deliver an "establishment" candidate with a financial advantage. Trump won a crowded primary on Super Tuesday despite being out-spent and out-endorsed. In VA-02, Delegate Scott Taylor trounced establishment candidate Congressman Randy Forbes who had the backing of popular incumbent, Congressman Scott Rigell. And of course, in the 2014 contest for VA-07, Tea Party-backed David Brat ousted incumbent Majority Leader Eric Cantor in one of the biggest political upsets in American history.
RPV's choice to have a primary has upped the ante, literally.
Republican gubernatorial candidates will be immersed in an advertising and spending war leading up to the primary. With hopefuls spending massive amounts of money and viciously attacking each other, the primary will produce a damaged candidate with an empty pocket.
The Trump Factor.
The candidates for governor abandoned all moral fiber when they threw their weight behind Donald Trump. Corey Stewart is Trump's Virginia campaign chairman, who says he'll run his campaign like the Republican nominee - relying on his bombastic personality to dominate headlines and raise his profile to primary voters.
Meanwhile, Ed Gillespie, Rob Wittman, and Frank Wagner have endorsed Trump - but have refused to condemn him for his offensive rhetoric, even after he attacked a Virginia gold star family.
Donald Trump continues to bitterly divide the Republican Party of Virginia. Even Jim Gilmore, the Chair of RPV's field effort refuses to endorse the nominee - sparking more intense intraparty fighting.
The Republican Party of Virginia remains fractured, exclusive, and bitterly divided.
The bar is so low for civil political discourse within the Republican Party of Virginia that the Washington Post defined civility to mean "shouting broke out only once." The vote to do away with a nominating convention in favor of a primary was 41-40 and left activists pessimistic about achieving any semblance of party unity.