LYNCHBURG, Va. — The "Great Divide" within the Republican Party continues to grow. The latest installment? Whether to hold a convention or a primary to select the gubernatorial candidate for Virginia's 2021 election, as highlighted by the litigious actions of gubernatorial candidate Sen. Amanda Chase earlier this month.
Now, following a whirlwind of confusion and expeditious decision-making from Virginia's Republican Party, the GOP has landed on an unconventionally-located traditional convention in the parking lots of Liberty University — but university officials deny agreeing to this.
“The call right now that is before us is a call to move forward with what has been voted on numerous times by this board,” Willie Deutsch, a GOP Central Committee member and advocate of the convention, said in a Zoom meeting Thursday. “Liberty University has over 25,000 parking spots that they’re willing to let us utilize for a one-location drive-in convention.”
This decision generated some criticism within party boundaries — will the convention align with Gov. Ralph Northam's order for outdoor events not to exceed 30 percent capacity? Or, is the definition of "assembled convention" satisfied when the convention is held throughout multiple, disconnected parking lots?
"The only [change] between this convention and other conventions is the fact that this one, people are going to be sitting in their cars rather than in the Richmond Coliseum," committee member Mike Ginsburg said in the meeting, which was first reported by the Virginia Star.
The convention will be held in a drive-through format with attendees not exiting their cars, citing COVID-19 concerns. However, speculation has arisen as to whether or not this still constitutes a "gathering."
According to a Liberty University press statement, however, the university "has not agreed to any particular plan or contract... has been clear that using any main campus parking lots would not be an option... never discussed use of any parking garages, which would also not be an option... did not agree to a one-location plan where one parking lot would handle all the traffic associated with a convention."
Liberty personnel said the discussions were always about multiple lots that were spread out.
Officials also said the university "never mentioned a number of parking spaces or square footage to be used. No details or agreements have been worked out. As of today, there has been no site visit... Has not been notified that the date of the convention has been switched to May 8."
"The retail center parking facilities that Liberty would offer through its real estate holding companies were only offered at market rent like that charged other users who rent these kinds of parking lots and on comparable terms for such temporary use," university officials said.