Republican convention in Franklin will decide Brewer-Sadler race

Published 8:27 pm Monday, March 20, 2023

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The method of selecting a Republican candidate to run for Virginia’s newly created 17th Senate District is still a convention, despite a notice published on the Virginia Department of Elections website that briefly listed the race having changed to a primary.

Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, is running for the party’s nomination against retired NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler of Emporia. According to Brewer’s campaign website, the convention is set for June 3 at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Franklin campus.

A March 9 letter from Department of Elections Commissioner Susan Beals to local electoral boards listed June 20 primaries for 27 Republican races, including the 17th’s. But a March 10 letter showed primaries for only 26 races, with the 17th no longer among them.

Department of Elections spokeswoman Andrea Gaines described the March 10 letter as a “correction.”

The brief change to a primary and then back to a convention marks the latest conflicting information to emerge from the state and candidates concerning the 17th District race.

Sadler had announced eight days earlier, on March 1, that the 17th’s Legislative District Committee, a body consisting of city- and county-level Republican Party chairs in the district, had voted to hold a primary. The Republican Party issued its own statement on March 2 contending the vote to be invalid due to the committee’s having lacked enough members present to constitute a quorum.

In a primary, polls will be open in each locality on the specified date; voters will also have the option of voting early or by absentee ballot. A convention, on the other hand, is held at one place at a specific date and time that doesn’t necessarily coincide with other primary races. 

To cast ballots in a convention, voters will have to register as delegates and then travel to the site to fill out what’s known as a “convention delegate form.” Brewer’s campaign website states voting will begin at 10 a.m. and that delegates should arrive by 8:30 a.m. The convention is expected to last roughly two hours and will feature remarks by both candidates.

The advantage of a convention, according to Brewer Campaign Manager Nathanael Hirt, is that it allows the committee to verify every ballot is indeed cast by a registered Republican. Virginia holds open primaries in which anyone can vote regardless of party affiliation.

Sadler, who had again announced on March 9 via Facebook that his race had changed to a primary, said in an email to The Smithfield Times on Monday that his campaign was “not given any notice or explanation” for why the race changed back to a convention on March 10.

The 17th District legislative committee has published a convention call that states each locality will have one delegate per 500 votes of “Republican Party voting strength.” Suffolk is allotted a maximum of 315 delegates. Isle of Wight is allotted 225. Franklin and Southampton County get a combined 135 delegates. Brunswick County gets 60. Greensville County and Emporia get a combined 50 delegates. Portsmouth gets 50. DInwiddie County gets 40 and Chesapeake gets five.


Sadler alleges convention benefits Brewer

Sadler is alleging the change back to a convention could give Brewer an edge. Since Suffolk has the largest weighted vote of the 10 cities and counties comprising the 17th District, Suffolk’s GOP chairman has “control over the mass meeting” and “decides who can vote,” Sadler said, regardless of where the convention is held.

The Republican Party of Virginia website lists Steve Trent as the Suffolk GOP’s current chairman. Trent, according to campaign finance reports, gave Brewer a $500 donation in December.

Trent, who’s held the chairman position for Suffolk’s GOP in past years, was recently reinstalled as its leader via an effort by the 2nd Congressional District’s legislative committee, Sadler alleges.

A statement on the Suffolk GOP’s Facebook page by Dawn Jones, who identifies herself as the Suffolk GOP’s “rightful chair,” alleges an effort by Dennis Free, chairman of the 2nd Congressional District’s GOP committee, to “dissolve” the Suffolk chapter on grounds that the unit had become “dysfunctional.” Jones characterized the move as “intimidation tactics” to “suppress conservative members.”

Trent and Free each declined to comment when contacted by the Times. Free deferred comments to Republican Party of Virginia spokesman Ken Nunnenkamp, who did not immediately respond when contacted by the Times.

The 2nd Congressional District’s Republican legislative committee is a body formed from the party chairs of each city and county in U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans’ district. The committee has shared updates from Brewer’s campaign to its Facebook page, including Brewer’s recent announcement of an endorsement by Isle of Wight County School Board Chairman John Collick.

Virginia’s Supreme Court adopted new legislative districts at the end of 2021 based on the 2020 Census. Brewer, who’s represented the reliably Republican and largely rural 64th House of Delegates District since 2017, was moved to the new, Suffolk-heavy 84th District, which leans narrowly to Democrats, according to a Virginia Public Access Project analysis based on its share of votes from the 2021 governor’s race.  Brewer announced last year she would instead seek the new Senate District 17 seat, also created from the redistricting process. Sadler, months later, announced his own candidacy, billing himself as a “conservative outsider” in the race.