MECHANICSVILLE — Despite a series of disappointing rulings and a barrage of what they termed “fake news” accounts claiming Saturday’s Firehouse Primary was canceled, campaign workers for incumbent Del. Chris Peace, R-97, were all smiles as voters lined up early and all day at the Mechanicsvlle VFW to cast a ballot.
“They started lining up before the polls opened this morning and, at one point, the line stretched all the way around the building,” said volunteer John Shinholser as he greeted voters in that cue.
When the polls closed at polling sites located in Hanover, King William and New Kent counties, Peace received over 93 percent of the ballots cast of the more than 2,400 votes recorded.
If an event that the Scott Wyatt campaign said was indeed cancelled following the recent rulings, more than 850 Hanover Republicans cast a ballot before noon, and the lines continued steady throughout the afternoon.
Officials in King William and New Kent also reported packed parking lots and heavy voter turnout.
As the line moved orderly and endured sticky temperatures, some said this was their opportunity to cast a ballot. Many others said they were drawn to the event to voice objection to a process they viewed as less than inclusive.
“This is an important part of the process,” Steve Saunders said. “I support the idea of the people of the county having a voice. From what I understand about that other process that took place, it smells.”
Lynn Sanders, a government teacher, agreed. “I think this turnout shows that people didn’t like the way this was handled. That’s just not the way we do things in Hanover.”
And others said they just wanted to cast a vote and have their voice heard.
“Chris has been our representative and has done a good job for this district,” said Edwin Mills. “Chris has spent a lot of time for us, so this a small thing we can do.”
Farther down the line, a man who said he supported Wyatt was jovial as he waited to cast a ballot. “I voted once in a convention you all said was cancelled. Now, I’m voting in a primary we said is cancelled. I’m hoping one of those votes will count,” the man, who asked that his name not be used, said.
On Wednesday, the Hanover Republcan Committee ousted chairman Dale Taylor. Per the party plan, Darryl Carr assumed the chair and became the unit’s Legislative District Committee member, replacing Mike Reynold.
The implications of that change were apparent when the LDC met the following morning and seated Carr and subsequently passing a series of motions that cancelled the Canvass and accepted the results of the May 4 Convention that nominated Wyatt.
Wyatt’s position was reinforced by a 1st District Committee ruling that upheld his claim to the nomination. That action was upheld by the State Central Committee late last week, and the Republican Party of Virginia removed the call for the canvass from its website.
Wyatt has consistently claimed the nomination process is over and he is the candidate, and it appeared many of his supporters were not participating in Saturday’s canvass.
Peace said none of those seemingly pro-Wyatt rulings mattered since Taylor’s removal was deemed improper and out of order by the RPV’s general counsel, and pointed to a long line of voters as a true representation of Hanover Republicans.
“I got up this morning and didn’t know what to expect with the information overload and frustration people had with the whole thing,” Peace said. “It would have been completely reasonable for people to say I’m tired of all of it and not come, but I think what we are seeing is that people are tired of it and that pent-up frustration is what we are seeing today.”
As to what happens following Saturday’s tally, Peace was clear on his position.
“As far as I know this is the authorized process. If the General Counsel ruled that Dale Taylor’s removal was not lawful, then everything else that is done from that is also not lawful,” he added, stating that the Executive Committee actually ruled on a non-issue he likened to “air.”
Peace campaign advisor Boyd Marcus also viewed the turnout as definitive in determining the true intent of voters in the district.
“This event today is going to show pretty conclusively what the voters of the 97th District think about all this maneuvering and back room dealing that’s gone on with the Wyatt campaign,” Marcus said. “I think the Republican Party power structure needs to listen to the people in the district.”
With both candidates claiming victory, resolution seems unlikely, and both campaigns have retained attorneys for the upcoming battle that seems destined to end up in court.
On a news radio program last week, Wyatt said the nomination race is over and he is legitimately certified by the LDC as the nominee.
“It’s over,” Wyatt said. “At the end of the day, I look forward to representing conservatives who live in the eastern part of Hanover County and New Kent and King William,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt said he was nominated following guidelines issued by the Republican Party Plan, and is focused on November.
“I will vote with Republicans 100 percent of the time,” Wyatt said.
While Peace worked the polls, Wyatt was campaigning at several Mechanicsville events, including the Cold Harbor Ruritans Shrimp Festival.
Peace said he’s ready for the fight. “It is humbling to have such overwhelming support from our district. I promise to continue fighting for this district’s future and values. Wherever this fight takes me, I will ensure that the voice of 97th District voters that was heard today is fully respected and duly acknowledged — whether it is in a State Central Committee or in the courts.”