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Judge grants Republicans extension to nominate Spanberger challenger

RICHMOND — Republicans in the Richmond area will have a month and a half longer to pick a nominee to run against Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, in November.

The coronavirus pandemic also is pushing the Virginia Democratic Convention into the virtual realm.

A Richmond judge on Tuesday granted a request from the Republican Party of Virginia to push the deadline for nominating a challenger from June 9 to July 28. The party had been scheduled to hold a convention April 25 at the Arthur Ashe Center in Richmond, but is looking into other options with executive orders from Gov. Ralph Northam limiting large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans are choosing from six candidates in a bid to unseat Spanberger, whose 2018 victory over Rep. Dave Brat helped flip the GOP-led House of Representatives to a Democratic majority.

Candidates include Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland, Chesterfield nonprofit leader Tina Ramirez, Army veteran Andrew Knaggs, Chesterfield County teacher Pete Greenwald and Coast Guard veteran Jason Roberge.

The 7th Congressional District Republican Committee filed last week for a temporary injunction on the June 9 deadline, which is set by state law. Judge Bradley B. Cavedo granted that injunction, citing Northam’s executive orders.

The Ashe Center canceled its agreement with the committee, according to Cavedo’s ruling, and backup facilities also “refused” to have the convention there, with the exception of West Creek Park. That would require an outdoor convention — possibly a drive-thru or drive-in convention — and Cavedo said that “it is unknown if this type of event” violates Northam’s orders.

“The Committee and (7th District Chairman Ben Slone) are making substantial efforts to conduct a convention that complies with both (the Republican Party of Virginia’s plan and state law), but it appears to the Court that a convention cannot be accomplished by June 9, 2020, due to COVID-19 and EO53 and EO55 issued by Governor Northam,” Cavedo wrote.

He added: “Absent an injunction, the Committee’s nominee for Congress will not appear on the ballot for the general election to be conducted on November 3, 2020.”

Northam’s executive orders, handed down in late March, bar gatherings of 10 or more people, among other things. His stay-at-home order extends to June 10.

The 7th District includes all of Orange, Culpeper, Goochland, Louisa, Nottoway, Amelia and Powhatan counties, along with large parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

While the 7th District GOP committee is holding a convention to determine who runs against Spanberger, Republicans statewide will decide in a primary who they want to challenge Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. That primary had been scheduled for June 9, the same date as the previous 7th District deadline, but Northam has pushed it back to June 23, citing the virus.

Under Cavedo’s ruling, the 7th District committee will have until 7 p.m. July 28 to nominate a candidate.

“It gives us the opportunity now as a committee to reconsider the convention as a possibility,” Slone said.

Slone said the committee is still “considering all options” on how to hold the convention, uncertain of when the public health crisis will end. That includes drive-thru voting, drive-in voting, mail-in votes, electronic voting or a combination of the ideas.

He added that, unofficially, there are 5,077 people who have signed up to be delegates for the convention, a number larger than a normal convention, Slone said.

Susan Swecker, state Democratic chairwoman, said in an email Wednesday that the 2020 convention — originally planned to be held in the Richmond Convention Center on June 20 – will, instead, be staged remotely that day.

Swecker said the decision was made Tuesday by the steering committee of the State Central Committee, the party’s governing body. Democratic leaders have been discussing the idea for about four weeks.

There were no immediate details on how the virtual convention would be carried out. The Democrats’ local and regional conventions have already pivoted to virtual.

“Given the Governor’s stay-at-home order and to keep everyone safe, our steering committee unanimously voted to have a virtual convention this year,” Swecker said.

“We have been hard at work setting up a reliable and secure way to select our delegates and bring the Party together to nominate Vice President Joe Biden.”

The convention will select the last of the state’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention at which Biden will be installed as the party’s presidential nominee.

The convention – in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – was pushed from July to August because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In Virginia, after Democrats abandoned in-person local conventions, currently underway, and congressional district meetings next month for the on-line equivalent, there was speculation the party would do the same with its state conclave.


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