A number of recent items about the VA Republican Party shows just how tough a time they're having keeping their coalition together.
- Blue Virginia has a nice (if typically gleeful) roundup of what's going on with the state GOP, as longtime blogger and activist Shaun Kenney has been replaced as the head of the Republican Party of Virginia by Loudon County lawyer John Whitbeck. This kind of "inside baseball" change doesn't get much traction in the press (this WaPo article excepted), but it reflects a divided party.
- What's the problem? For most observers, it's a split in the party exemplified in Dave Brat's primary upset of Eric Cantor. Brat's Tea Party wing proved more powerful than "establishment" Republicans who tend to favor pragmatism over ideological purity. (Although, to outsiders, they're ALL a pretty conservative bunch.) Brat's victory has encouraged other giant-killers like Susan Stimpson, who is challenging the powerful House Speaker Bill Howell in this year's state election. Stimpson probably doesn't have a chance - although we all said that about Brat. (And she just picked up an endorsement from national anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.)
- At the same time, the party's libertarian wing reached across the aisle last year to form the Ben Franklin Liberty Caucus, a bipartisan group worried about civil liberties. This group, led by NoVa delegate Rich Anderson, were stirred up by license plate photo software last year and drone tech this year. (At the same time, those Cantor-style "establishment" types were killing a bill to bar civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize your property without even charging you with a crime.)
All parties have their factions. (A similar GOP dynamic operates at the national level, although immigration plays a bigger part there.) But the loss of the three top state-wide offices to the Dems last year, plus long-reported funding problems, combine with the above tensions to suggest a party in disarray.
State Republicans can take heart in their stranglehold on the House of Delegates (currently a super-majority of 67 out of 100), but even that has an uncertain future. After the success of the court case challenging the gerrymandered 3rd Congressional District (now with a September 1 deadline for redistricting), all eyes are on another lawsuit challenging state districts.
We won't see much effect this year, but the real battle for Virginia's state government will start next year with possible new districts and (yes, unfortunately) jockeying for the Governor's mansion; we'll see how well the GOP has managed then.