Pic: Kevin Bailey, former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates 56th District.
Three years after Democrats tried to virtually outlaw Republicans from choosing their nominees by convention, a Saturday convention created 5 more rock stars - Kevin Bailey, Jordan Bruckner, Jennie Wood, Zach Werrell, and Tom Garrett.
A funny TV commercial features actual rock stars telling the rest of us we can't call each other rock stars, but for my 25th convention in a row I saw leaders emerge who can be called no less. Scroll to the bottom for notes on who each of these five emerged as a star, but first, an explanation of why conventions produce stars.
Stars emerge because nominating candidates through conventions; 1) makes candidates and their staff go to local meetings and interact with actual local residents to get votes rather the money-driven nasty primaries, 2) does not require state taxpayers to pay for a partisan primary since conventions are party run, 3) prevent the opposing party from taking over a partisan primary by spending millions to get their voters to nominate an unelectable opponent (see Democratic Illinois Governor Pritzker spending $20 million to make sure the Republican who had no chance against him would be his opponent).
Those who oppose another election method - Final Five - sometimes argue that it is dangerous to throw out partisan primaries that have worked since the Founding. This is blatantly false. Conventions - not partisan primaries - were used for nominations from the founding for more than 100 years. It was not until 1916 that just over half of states started to use partisan primaries instead of nominating conventions. And then eight conservative states went back to conventions to make partisan primaries the minority again until the TV networks took over and pressure grew to use partisan primaries determined by who could spend the most on TV to win.
In what other arena do conservatives believe TV networks should drive what we do?
In what other arena would conservatives tolerate liberal Democrats passing a law on how they picked their Republican nominee, as was done in Virginia two years ago to attempt to make this the last year Virginia could hold conventions like our convention Saturday?
I plan to be in Iowa and Nevada when Republicans gather to discuss and choose who their Presidential nominee should be, as two of the four first states use a caucus system similar to conventions (New Hampshire and South Carolina have primaries). It is much harder for Democrats to infiltrate a caucus or convention to pick a weaker Republican nominee. Good luck to a liberal who would have shown up Saturday to mess with that nomination process.
I've run 17 winning and eight losing conventions, and once again this weekend I saw a convention-driven campaign that kept whatever negative exchanges there were down to communications among the several hundred people discussing their best choice. In a primary, 10s of thousands of residents would have seen attack TV and direct mail aimed at the eventual nominee - because those ads are run by outside groups who never actually visit or talk to anyone in the district. Again, good luck to any outside group who wanted to show up Saturday or at any convention to explain the nasty fliers they were handing delegates.
None of this is to say your state needs to change from partisan primaries to conventions if they have not been used in decades, but to say one party can outlaw a nominating option for another party seems absurd. Also saying we can't replace partisan primaries because America always used them is false.
The option of nominating conventions also provides a great option to couple with Final Five voting. The party picks the candidate they will support and try to elect, powered by hundreds of activists and the party budget and being listed as the Republican in the final ballot of five or fewer candidates. Then any spoiler candidate is eliminated by the Final Five process so a conservative district is represented by a conservative elected official.
Therefore the following five convention stars were not on TV being promoted and attacked - they are not household names - but through tireless efforts they became stars.
5 Rock Stars
Kevin Bailey was a first-time candidate, but he showed that representing and listening to more than 5,000 clients while building his country law practice made him so effective that he actually garnered many more actual votes than two impressive opponents (also listed below). Here is the actual vote tally of how many delegates not only signed up for the convention, but showed up, weighed their choices, and cast their vote on the first ballot:
Kevin Bailey - 226 votes, 49.6%
Tom Garrett - 146 votes, 32.0%
Jennie Wood - 84 votes, 18.4%
If those were the percentages in a traditional vote, Bailey would have been a landslide winner in his very first run for office against someone who had been elected several times. Because of the weighting system by county, those vote totals were adjusted to just more than 86 for Bailey, 81 for Garrett and 54 for Wood, which left all three short of the 113 needed to win under convention rules. Since no candidate reached 113 in the weighted vote, and like Final Five conventions require a majority to win, Wood was eliminated and endorsed Garrett to push him into first on the final. However, none of that detracts from Bailey's incredible showing of half of the total actual votes.
Jordan Bruckner is pictured here with several friends including Virginia 5th District GOP Chair Rick Buchanan, who I must deny ever caught me being handed a Bud Light against my will after the last such beer ever consumed by a conservative. Also with him are former Speaker Vance Wilkins, who would show up at 6 am across the hall from me when I was a legislative aide in Richmond, VA, and tea party leader Travis Witt who helped Steve Waters and me recruit Dave Brat to run for Congress and is now at Liberty University like Brat.
However, Jordan quietly outdid us all by leading the effort to convince hundreds of conservatives to sign up for Saturday's convention, collect their pre-file forms and turn them in. Though ultimately successful, Zach praised Jordan after the convention for the incredible job he had done in far outdoing the other campaigns in new delegates signed up to participate - so Jordan is a rising star. There is no faking physically turning in hundreds of signed forms.
Jennie Wood has served behind the scenes as a legislative aide for Senator Mark Peake (as I did in the Virginia General Assembly for years), but Jennie is now a leader in her own right and does not need to be anyone's support after the incredible convention speech she gave Saturday. Bailey and everyone else agreed it was the speech of the convention, and Jennie is another example of a leader who started out as a good speaker but through the months of visiting counties throughout the district became a great speaker who clearly needs to be tapped for future elected office or other leadership roles.
One year I gave more than 200 surrogate speeches for a statewide convention candidate, but I started each speech by saying, "I am here as my candidate's surrogate LISTENER." Jennie listened and became a powerful messenger, and then delivered another speech to propel Tom Garrett into first place on the second ballot.
Zach Werrell, like me, thought he was done with campaigns, but answered a call from a friend (Garrett) to travel back for one more before returning to his post-political career. I already spent a whole email on Zach, so will not belabor, but once again, I would not have had my five minutes of fame on Fox News if Zach had not arrived as a 23-year-old to manage Brat's historic upset and slept a couple of hours a night on a cot at headquarters until Dave won. No one is better.
Tom Garrett is a former Congressman who, like Zach, had moved on from politics, but returned to the stump when this race opened up and was the ultimate winner Saturday, accepting what was made a unanimous endorsement to head into a general that will be a lopsided win even if the Democrats find an opponent in these final weeks.