In a move that most are interpreting as good news for George Allen, the Virginia GOP has decided that the 2012 nominee for Senate will be decided via a primary rather than a convention:
Virginia’s Republican Party will hold a primary to nominate its candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012, not a convention.
The GOP’s State Central Committee decided on a primary Saturday while meeting at the Republican Advance in McLean (That’s the party’s annual retreat, so named because they believe the party doesn’t retreat, only advance. Get it?)
The vote is a sign of support for former governor and senator George Allen, who has said he is weighing an attempt to regain the seat he lost to U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D) in 2006. A primary is widely believed to favor Allen because he has strong name recognition throughout the state and would have the easiest time raising money, a significant advantage in a primary.
A convention might have favored other candidates whom die-hard Republican convention delegates might have perceived as more conservative. Those potential candidates include Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), Prince William Supervisor Chairman Corey Stewart and Bert Mizusawa, a Hampton Roads businessman who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Congress this year.
Stewart had said he favored a convention; Marshall said he preferred a primary. Allen did not weigh in on the issue heading into the Advance.
The only question now is when the primary will be held. Under current law, the Senate primary would be held in June and the Presidential primary would be held on the second Tuesday in February. As Jim Riley points out, though, new RNC primary timing rules are going to require that the General Assembly change the date of the Presidential primary, possibly moving it to some time in March. When they do that, there will be many who will call on them to move the Senate primary as well in order to save time and money.
If that happens, then the conventional wisdom that a primary helps Allen and hurts the insurgent candidates could be thrown out the window. Assuming the race for the GOP nomination is still competitive when the Virginia primary rolls around, then voter enthusiasm for candidates at the top of the ticket will likely influence what happens in the Senate race. This will be an interesting race to watch.