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In Senate Race, Virginia Republicans Prepare For Convention Weekend

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Ed Gillespie is considered the favorite to challenge former Democratic governor Sen. Mark Warner.
Gage Skidmore: https://flic.kr/p/kNC2Ft
Ed Gillespie is considered the favorite to challenge former Democratic governor Sen. Mark Warner.

Virginia Republicans are getting ready to gather for a convention to select their candidate for the United States Senate. Four candidates will be vying for the nomination this weekend at the convention in Roanoke.

Democrats use primaries to select statewide candidates. But Republicans have only used primaries to select statewide candidates eight times in the last 100 years. University of Mary Washington professor Stephen Farnsworth says conventions can be problematic because they tend to select the most conservative candidate even if that candidate is unelectable.

"Someone as conservative as Bill Bolling wouldn't even go through a convention process because of the belief that Ken Cuccinelli had it sewn up, and if Bill Bolling had been the Republican nominee he probably would be governor today," Farnsworth says.

Consider what happened last year when seven candidates were vying for a spot as the party's nominee for lieutenant governor. The convention ended up selecting firebrand preacher E.W. Jackson, who went down to defeat in November.

Now former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie hopes to fend off three challengers, and University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Geoff Skelley says Gillespie hired many of the folks who helped state Sen. Mark Obenshain win the nomination for attorney general in last year's convention.

"That would indicate that he has a good understanding of how he needs to build the coalition necessary to win at a convention and then move on to November," Skelley says.

Skelley expressed confidence that Gillespie has what it takes to sew up the nomination, but nothing is ever certain.

"I mean you never know because it's a convention and it's a little more unpredictable. But it does seem like Gillespie and his campaign has done a very good job of making sure that they are going to have a lot of delegates at this thing," Skelley says.

Whichever candidate emerges from the convention will face incumbent Democrat Mark Warner this fall.

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