Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli
Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli | flickr, the commons

Ghosts of past successes, and failures, haunt Virginia GOP Convention

The backroom brawl over national convention delegates comes to Virginia this weekend, as Republicans gather in Harrisonburg to select the 13 at-large members of the state's delegation.

Contrary to earlier rumors, GOP front-runner Donald Trump will not be visiting the event in hopes of swaying the vote. But many operatives from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign will be there, including campaign staffer, and former Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli.

As Cruz's delegate operations manager, Cuccinelli has helped the campaign wage a nationwide guerrilla campaign that has helped elect national convention delegates friendly to Cruz, even though they may be committed to voting for Trump on the first ballot.

Now it's Cuccinelli's turn, as he seeks to win one of the 13 at-large delegate slots from his home state.

In a statement to AMI Newswire, Cuccinelli stuck to generalities, characterizing his role in the Cruz campaign as creating "the necessary foundation to secure the support of delegates."

Cuccinelli did note that his experience in Virginia's 2013 gubernatorial nominating contest plays a role in his work for Cruz.

"Focusing on organizing individual networks of volunteers who uniquely understand the nominating process and can effectively communicate the campaign's message is just as key now as it was during my 2013 primary," Cuccinelli said, adding that "consistent, long-term planning is an essential part of a successful delegate strategy."

In that earlier contest, Cuccinelli waged a year-long campaign in district conventions across the state to elect his supporters as members of the state party's central committee. Once in charge, the Cuccinelli majority changed the party's nomination method for its 2013 statewide candidates from a primary to a convention.

Cuccinelli's main opponent for the nomination, former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, dropped out of the race once it became clear he could not win a convention stacked with Cuccinelli supporters.

But some warn that trying to follow the 2013 blueprint could blow up in the GOP's face.

Shaun Kenney, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, told AMI Newswire, "the Cruz campaign has been actively gaming the outcome in Virginia."

"Cruz's strategy has been pretty forthright so far," Kenney said. "Do everything possible to get a brokered convention, and rig the delegate selection process so that the delegates themselves are pledged to Cruz on a second ballot."

"Should this happen," Kenney warned, "there's no way Cruz will be able to excuse it as a mass persuasion effort. Grassroots activists who fought for Trump will rightly feel cheated."

"The problem is that in the past," Kenney said, "this sort of rigging was done in the hands of better men."

Kenny said recent Virginia history should dictate caution, rather than audacity, from the Cruz campaign.

"There are far too many parallels to Virginia's 2013 gubernatorial bid where both parties selected the only nominee that could be beaten by the other," Kenney said.

"Even if longtime Republican activists don't like the outcome," he added, "it would be at least some solace if the process were fair and above board."

Republican Party of Virginia spokesman David D'Onofrio challenged Kenney's assessment.

"We have conducted a fair, open and transparent process involving all the candidates from the very beginning of the presidential race," D'Onofrio said. "We take great pride in being fair and transparent."

D'Onofrio said state conventions, even during presidential years are "typically rather mundane affairs."

"We don't expect anything out of the unusual to occur during the convention," D'Onofrio added, saying that "the committees will make their reports, people will vote on the delegate slates. It's a pretty straightforward, and open, process."

"But," he added, "these are grassroots activists, and we are prepared for any contingencies."