The Republican Party of Virginia squares off against the local 6th Congressional District Committee in a nominating convention this Saturday in Harrisonburg, Virginia to select the GOP’s nominee to succeed retiring Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).
Virginia Republican National Committeewoman Cynthia Dunbar and State Del. Ben Cline, Goodlatte’s former chief of staff and hand picked successor, are the two leading contenders.
Cline is backed by the leadership of the Republican Party of Virginia, as well as a broad spectrum of Republicans locally, and has been endorsed by Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, Stuart Jolly, Trump campaign national field director, Mike Rubino, Virginia state director of the Trump campaign, and Denver Riggleman, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Dunbar is supported by grassroots conservatives throughout the district, particularly in the leadership of the 6th Congressional District Committee, and has been endorsed by Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Eagle Forum, the Susan B. Anthony list, Ginni Thomas, founder of Liberty Consulting, and long time Republican National Committeeman from Virginia and founder of the Leadership Institute, Morton Blackwell.
Cline also has grassroots support in the district, and has a longer relationship with many locals than Dunbar, first on Goodelatte’s staff, then, since 2002, as a Delegate in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Dunbar has a strong conservative pedigree. A graduate of Regents University Law School and a former visiting professor at Liberty University Law School in Lynchburg, Dunbar was elected to the Texas State Board of Education, and served from 2007 to 2011. She also served as state co-chair in Virginia for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign .
“Cline, an attorney who has served in the House of the Delegates since 2002, has a staunchly conservative record in the General Assembly, where he serves as chairman of the House Conservative Caucus. He has recently sponsored legislation to declare the anniversary of Roe v. Wade a ‘Day of Tears’ and ban sanctuary cities. He also leads a House committee that blocked all gun control legislation earlier this year,” Richmond.com reported in March.
Cline chairs the Conservative Caucus of the General Assembly, which is the Freedom Caucus of Richmond.
Breitbart News spoke exclusively with both Dunbar and Cline about Saturday’s upcoming convention.
Cline disputed the characterization that Dunbar has more grassroots support in the district.
“We both have chairmen from local groups supporting us. My support runs deeper than just the unit chairmen, but also locally elected officials, and leaders in the 6th District Community. Her support is primarily outside the district and inside the Beltway,” Cline added.
Cline also disputed the characterization that he is backed by the leadership of the Republican Party of Virginia.
The two candidates are separated less by ideology than they are by loyalties, personal allegiances, and how they view the role of a member of Congress.
Dunbar favors term limits, for instance, and says she will only serve three terms, if elected.
Cline, on the other hand, opposes term limits.
“I believe the best system of government is where the power lies with the people. And I believe that the best way of determining who represents you is for the people to decide. When you place limits on the ability of the people to decide, you place limits on who can represent you and take your ideas to Washington,” he said at a candidate forum in Roanoke in March.
Cline is characterized by some as a Republican establishment team player, in the mold of his long time mentor, Goodlatte, who has a lifelong 64 percent rating from Conservative Review.
Dunbar has the potential to be a real game-changer in the House of Representatives, a voice who will challenge the status quo and the top down leadership style that has characterized the Speakerships of John Boehner and Paul Ryan.
Cline says that’s exactly what he will do, as well.
Both candidates say they opposed the last minute jamming through of massive spending bills by the GOP leadership, like the $1.3 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill members had just two days to read and review before voting on in March.
Dunbar came out swinging in March when Goodlatte voted yes on the $1.3 billion Omnibus spending bill, which President Trump called “awful,” but signed for national security reasons, vowing to never sign a similar bill in the future. Cline, in contrast, has supported Goodlatte’s entire record.
“The incumbent, Bob Goodlatte, has held this seat for almost 26 years now. The 6th District of VA is the most conservative district in the Commonwealth. Yet, Bob Goodlatte voted for the Omnibus bill. I publicly came out and opposed his action. I have given numerous speeches up and down the district talking about the horrors of this bill and how no Republican in Congress should have voted for it,” Dunbar, who also serves as the Republican National Committeewoman from Virginia on the Republican National Committee, told Breitbart News on Tuesday.
“This omnibus bill is an embarrassment. To have a bill with such outlandish spending pass through a Republican controlled Congress is simply baffling,” Dunbar said in a statement released by her campaign on March 23, the day the House of Representatives passed the 2,232 page Omnibus Spending Bill that members of Congress were given just a few days to read and review.
“This is proof that Congress is full of career politicians and big-government socialists, and is in desperate need of outspoken, constitutional conservatives who are beholden to the grassroots, not the Swamp,” she added.
“The Omnibus is exactly what is wrong with Washington today. It’s bigger government spending, funding for liberal policies like Planned Parenthood, and crammed through at the last minute with no time for review by members,” Cline told Breitbart News.
“I’m the one who got 48 hour review in Virginia,” he added.
“I would have led the opposition to the Omnibus bill. I’m leading the equivalent of the Freedom Caucus in Virginia. I’m looking forward to help lead the Freedom Caucus in Washington,” Cline said.
Dunbar stated back in November that, if elected, she would join the Freedom Caucus, where conservative stalwarts like Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) and chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) have long championed a return to “regular order” in the Congressional budgeting process, so that budgeting decisions are made over the course of a Congressional session, starting in the committees and subcommittees where Members of Congress have built up expertise in specific areas, moving on to a vote on the floor of the House only after all the details have been discussed and worked through.
Dunbar also tweeted her support for Jordan to become next Speaker of the House after Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement.
“Dunbar wants to be a member of the Freedom Caucus, I want to be a member to help lead it,” Cline added. “The reason is our president is doing a great job, and he needs more help from Congress.”
“She’s got conservative bona fides, and I respect her work in Texas,” Cline said of Dunbar. “This is a fight between two people with conservative views,” he noted.
The Republican Party of the 6th Congressional District’s convention this Saturday is the only time this election cycle where the nominee of either party is being selected by a convention rather than a primary, due to an unusual law in the Commonwealth of Virginia by which nominees for federal and state offices are selected.
Each election cycle, Republicans decide whether to select nominees through a primary process or nominating convention process. In 2013, for instance, candidates for statewide office were selected in a raucous convention rather through a primary. In 2017, candidates for statewide office were nominated by a primary.
At the Congressional District level, the incumbent office holder can select either the primary or convention process for party nominations. Typically, incumbents choose the primary process, as it is easier for them to control the outcome, since they have greater financial resources in most cases than potential challengers.
In the 2018 election cycle, statewide federal offices and all but one Congressional District will nominate candidates in a primary, which will be held on June 12.
In the geographically extensive 6th Congressional District, however, Rep. Goodlatte’s announcement of his retirement in November removed his ability to select the means by which the nominee is selected. That authority went to the 6th Congressional District committee, which is dominated by conservative activists, who selected a convention as the means of picking the party’s nominee in 2018. Conservative activists in Virginia have long preferred conventions over primaries as a nominating mechanism, since it gives local activists more say than the primary process, which is dominated by big money, big media, and incumbents.
While that makes sense in theory, this time around, a convention, rather than a primary, has resulted in charges and counter-charges between supporters of Cline and Dunbar of convention rigging and smear tactics, underlying the sense that Virginia has become a vitriolic battleground of intraparty fighting that voters find increasingly disturbing.
The circumstances surrounding the convention have been widely seen as fracturing not only the Republican party, but the conservative grassroots within the 6th Congressional District as well.
“With a little over a week until the convention to nominate a Republican candidate for Congress to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia says he has become “increasingly alarmed” over the event’s planned processes,” Roanoke.com reported:
Chairman John Whitbeck described in an email a list of concerns about the May 19 convention in Harrisonburg, including banning delegates’ children from the convention floor, as well as campaign prohibitions during the event.
He sent the harshly worded email, obtained by The Roanoke Times, early Thursday to members of the 6th District Republican Committee and the State Central Committee, criticizing the rules as “unprecedented.”
Because of “continuing controversy that has engulfed this convention process ,” Whitbeck made a list of requests. He asked 6th District Chairman Scott Sayre — whom some candidates have accused of rigging the convention in favor of Cynthia Dunbar — to publicly pledge agreement. The rules won’t be formally adopted until the day of the convention.
“We have always been confident that in a fair and open convention process, I will be the nominee,” Cline told Breitbart News.
“Some members of the 6th District Committee, from the beginning, have been trying to rig the convention for one of the candidates. Their adoption of this plurality rule was removed by RPV State Central Committee because it violates the State Party Plan, which prohibits specific restriction on voting processes in the convention call,” Cline added.
For her part, Dunbar is upbeat about her chances of winning on Saturday, but critical of the actions of the Republican Party of Virginia in the leadup to the convention.
“This is a convention and we are winning. We have strong overwhelming grassroots support. So, to try to suppress my supporters, my opponents have run a horrible smear campaign: attacked my faith, filed a bogus FEC complaint, illegally sent both a forged letter and a fake email, made calls pretending to come from my campaign, and have even threatened my delegates,” Dunbar told Breitbart News, adding:
My opponent’s campaign has publicly mocked my supporters for shopping at Wal-Mart, eating at Waffle House, and saying they come from “far right-winged, narrow-minded, church groups.” My opponents have also reached out to their friendly press, the Washington Post and Roanoke Times, to print op-eds to attack me; no true conservative would ever use the fake news. They have even excoriated the Moral Majority (which actually started in the 6th District), twisted my Christian-conservative positions the same way liberals would, and have literally quoted Obama, “the 1980’s called and they want their politics back.” The comments being used against me and my supporters make my opponent sound just like a Democrat, calling us a basket of deplorables clinging to our God and our guns!
The Republican Party of Virginia establishment is firmly in Cline’s camp, Dunbar’s supporters argue, and has deployed bare knuckle tactics in an attempt to discredit her.
“While few want to talk about it, the grassroots base of the Republican Party in Virginia is fully aware that the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) leadership is Establishment,” Dunbar told Breitbart News.
“For any campaign to call on the RPV Chairman to actively weigh in on an intraparty race for the benefit of one campaign over another is, therefore, extremely telling. For the Chairman to actually do it is even more telling. It is divisive for the Republican Party of VA to inappropriately use its resources to benefit one faction of the party over another. It is not difficult to understand why Virginia is blue when its Republican Party is willing to spend time, money, and effort to fight its conservative base, instead of working to mobilize to effectively fight the Democrats,” Dunbar added.
One example of those tactics is a story published last month in the Richmond Times Dispatch that featured a complaint filed against her with the Federal Election Commission by Joshua C. Johnson.
The headline of the story read “FEC complaint: GOP official who put congressional candidate Cynthia Dunbar on his payroll was helping plan her campaign.” According to the article:
A campaign finance complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission this week claims a GOP official in western Virginia helped plan Republican Cynthia Dunbar’s congressional campaign while she was on his company’s payroll…
The emails included in the sworn complaint, filed by Roanoke attorney Joshua C. Johnson, raise new questions about that timeline, suggesting Sayre and others were already preparing Dunbar’s campaign while she was being paid by Sayre’s company . . .
The Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained a copy of the FEC complaint, which has markings indicating the agency received the document Tuesday. Johnson confirmed he filed the complaint but refused to say if he was working with a competing campaign or acting alone.
But attorney Jim Bopp, one of the leading election law experts in the country, took the complaint and its publication to task in a letter sent to the Dunbar campaign on Monday:
Mr. Johnson’s complaint is not a government-drafted complaint, but a so-called “any person” complaint. Unfortunately, baseless complaints such as this–filed close to elections for political mileage–regularly occur because federal law allows anyone, including political opponents, to file a complaint with the FEC without meeting the legal standards applied to official law enforcement actions.
In addition to the “complaint being without merit, its publication violated the confidentiality protections of federal law. A complaint that has been filed with the FEC cannot be made public by any person without the written consent of the respondent to the complaint, which in this case is you. This prohibition is to avoid providing an incentive for exactly what happened here–the filing of a baseless complaint to be paraded in the press before it can have been subject to any real legal scrutiny. Nonetheless, on April 25, the Richmond Times Dispatch provided you with a copy of the complaint that was file-stamped as received at the FEC on April 14 and thus came from Mr. Johnson or someone associated with him. This is a clear violation of federal law since the Richmond Times Dispatch was given the complaint after it was filed. With your permission, we will file a complaint with the FEC after the convention.
The final act of this political drama will play out for all the world to see when an estimated 4,200 Republican residents of the district gather in Harrisonburg on Saturday in the nominating convention to pick the party’s standard bearer in November.