A Brewer-Sadler primary? Not so fast, Republican Party says

Published 2:02 pm Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Republican Party of Virginia is denying 17th Senate District candidate Hermie Sadler’s announcement that his race against Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, has changed from a convention to a primary.

Sadler, a retired NASCAR driver from Emporia, announced on March 1 that the 17th’s Legislative District Committee, a body formed from all county-level Republican Party chairs from the localities that comprise the newly formed Senate district, voted that evening to hold a traditional primary on June 20.

As of January, the committee was leaning toward a convention, and still is, according to Ken Nunnenkamp, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

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The Republican Party issued its own statement on March 2, confirming the 17th’s Legislative District Committee had met on March 1 but contending that after approving the minutes of its last meeting, the committee “failed to maintain a quorum and was unable to transact business from that point forward.”

“For this reason, any votes taken after the loss of the committee quorum are invalid with regard to designating a method of candidate nomination or any other business,” the statement reads.

A quorum, Nunnenkamp explained, is defined as members of a legislative district committee who hold 50% or more of the “weighted vote.” The Republican Party of Virginia’s Plan of Organization specifies that each county or city Republican Party chair’s vote is to be weighted “in proportion to the Republican Party voting strength” within the district.

Nunnenkamp said he wasn’t in the room during the March 1 meeting and couldn’t say whether there was a quorumless vote to change the method of selection from a convention to a primary. There will be another meeting on March 8, he said, but until then, a convention remains the likely method the committee will choose.

Brewer condemned Sadler’s announcement as “misleading.”

“My opponent calls himself an outsider; however, the truth is he is employing party insiders in an attempt to change the legally called method of nomination,” Brewer said. “The vote was taken in December to select a Convention as the nomination process for the 17th Senate District. The meeting referenced from Wednesday evening had no legitimacy, and that has been confirmed by the statement issued from the Republican Party of Virginia. This is not about what I think or he thinks, this is about what our party knows is right. We don’t stand for misleading voters or fraudulent elections.”

Sadler did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ requests for comments on the issue.

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.

Convention voters must travel to the to-be-determined convention site and fill out what’s known as a “convention delegate form” to cast their ballots.

The advantage of a convention over a primary, Brewer’s campaign manager, Nathanael Hirt, told the Times in January, 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.

For each race that uses a primary, candidates have until 5 p.m. April 6 to file paperwork to get their names on the ballot. Primary races require each candidate to file a nominating petition bearing the signatures of at least 125 registered district voters for House of Delegates races and at least 250 registered district voters for Senate races.

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.

The 17th includes all of Isle of Wight, Southampton, Greenville and Brunswick counties, the cities of Suffolk, Franklin and Emporia, and parts of Portsmouth and Dinwiddie County.

The district’s share of votes from the 2021 governor’s race favored Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin by roughly five percentage points over former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, though former Gov. Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, would have carried the district by roughly eight points over his Republican challenger, Ed Gillespie, in the 2017 race, according to VPAP’s analysis.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Del. Emily Brewer.