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GOP congressman resigns from local party after endorsing Libertarian ticket

Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell became the first member of the state's congressional delegation to endorse Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson over the weekend, gaining national attention. But because of Republican Party rules in the state of Virginia, Rigell's endorsement also means he effectively resigned from the Party, an act he made official in the past two days.

Rigell, who is retiring after three terms in the House, made his endorsement known in an interview published Saturday in the New York Times. 

Rigell said he would not vote for either GOP nominee Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"I'm going to vote for the Libertarian candidate," Rigell told Times reporter Alexander Burns.

A CBS News/YouGov poll of 1,181 likely voters released Friday showed Clinton leading Trump in the swing state 49 percent to 37 percent. Johnson was in third place with 7 percent support.

Rigell's endorsement, however, also ended his membership in the local Republican Party unit that served as his political base.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Monday morning, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck, Second Congressional District chairman Dennis Free and Republican Party of Virginia Beach chairman Tina Mapes called Rigell's action "a profound disappointment."

"Congressman Rigell has served his constituents well over the past six years," the statement said, "but his vote, and any Republican’s vote for a third party candidate, only serves to elect Hillary Clinton president."

The Republican leaders "strongly urge Congressman Rigell to do what he always does, put his country and his Commonwealth first and work with us to defeat Hillary Clinton." 

Mapes told AMI Newswire that because of Rigell's endorsement of the Johnson-Weld presidential ticket, he "effectively resigned as a member of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach."

Mapes said state GOP rules require that any committee member who "publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions" for up to four years.

As the U.S. Representative for Virginia's 2nd District, Rigell was an ex-officio member of the Virginia Beach Republican committee.

Mapes said Rigell made his resignation from the committee official in personal communications with committee members after his Johnson endorsement appeared in print.

Shaun Kenney, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, told AMI Newswire that the state party abandoned a loyalty oath binding elected officials to support the national nominee "four months ago." 

"It would look extremely opportunistic if they engaged [it] again," in Rigell's case, he said.

As for what Rigell's endorsement of the Libertarian presidential ticket could mean, Kenney said it "would be a dangerous addition for the Libertarian Party."

Kenney said that if Rigell were inclined to do so, he could "bring resources, personality and leadership to a movement that has already demonstrated enough support to cost elections."

Some Virginia Republicans blame the Libertarian Party's U.S. Senate nominee, Robert Sarvis, for costing GOP nominee Ed Gillespie a win in his challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.

Warner defeated Gillespie by less than 17,000 votes. Sarvis polled more than 55,000 votes in that contest.

In Virginia's 2013 gubernatorial race, Sarvis, the Libertarian nominee, polled over 146,000 votes. The winner of of election, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli by just over 56,000 votes.

For Republicans baying for Rigell's scalp, Kenney cautioned that it "might feel good for the first five minutes, but for the next five years there are consequences."

Mapes noted that Virginia Beach Republicans will be meeting Monday night. She said she will not be in attendance due to travel, but will have the committee's vice chairman, Bill Curtis, read a statement that acknowledge's Rigell's resignation.

"We want to put this behind us and focus on winning in November," Mapes said.