John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, announced Saturday that he is resigning the post, effective July 21. The move means the state GOP will be picking a new leader in the midst of a charge by Democrats to flip Republican-held congressional seats in the November midterm elections.
Whitbeck’s announcement comes less than three weeks after Virginia Republicans nominated Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, as their nominee against a well-funded Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in November. Republicans have not won an election for statewide office in Virginia since 2009, when Bob McDonnell led a GOP sweep for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Had Whitbeck remained, he would have spent the next four months defending Stewart, who has tried to distance himself from past associations with white supremacists and far-right politicians, including Wisconsin’s Paul Nehlen, who has made anti-Semitic remarks on social media. Whitbeck did not return a voicemail Saturday.
Whoever takes over will need to defend against a charge by Democrats in GOP-held congressional districts, including those of Reps. Dave Brat, R-7th; Barbara Comstock, R-10th; and Scott Taylor, R-2nd.
“We’ve got to have a chairman that continues to bring us all together, continues to work for candidates that can win elections, and we’ve got to have a chairman that can concentrate heavily and work with the RNC on getting the right funds in here for holding the 10th, the 7th and the 2nd districts in the coming election,” said Jerry Kilgore, the party’s finance chair, a member of the state central committee and a former Virginia attorney general.
Kilgore said he was sorry to see Whitbeck move on.
“John is just a practical leader for the party,” he said. “His only interests are winning races and making sure that we have the best candidates for all the races.”
Whitbeck, a lawyer and small-business owner from Loudoun County, was elected in January 2015 to serve the remaining term of Pat Mullins, the state party’s retiring chairman. He is a previous 10th District GOP chairman in Northern Virginia.
“I am proud we have operated the party in a fiscally responsible and fiscally healthy manner consistently for years now,” Whitbeck said in a statement. “We have been passionate about bringing our message to new communities and growing the party with new voters.”
No Virginia political party has run the table for a decade in elections for president, U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general since the 1940s, when Democrats swept Virginia’s statewide elections. There is no election for statewide office in 2019, and Kaine is heavily favored this year against Stewart.
Just ahead of the June 12 GOP Senate primary, Whitbeck defended Stewart after rival Nick Freitas, a delegate from Culpeper, unleashed a broadside against Stewart’s past associations with white supremacists and urged the GOP to reject “hate mongers.”
Whitbeck wrote in a Facebook post: “Over the years there have been times where Corey Stewart and I have had our differences, but this is not such an instance — we both condemned the violence in Charlottesville and the groups behind it.”
Whitbeck said in a statement Saturday: “I started this job with a message of party unity being key to our success. I will end the job the same way. No matter what happens cycle after cycle, Republicans must stand together.”
Stewart, who narrowly defeated Freitas to win the nomination, called for Whitbeck’s resignation last fall after a wave election in which Democrats nearly took control of the House of Delegates. Stewart later said they had “patched things up.”
Stewart issued a brief statement Saturday in which he thanked Whitbeck for his service and added that “when selecting the new chairman, party leadership should choose a strong leader who will fight for President [Donald] Trump and his America First agenda.”
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, issued a statement saying Whitbeck ably led the party through two difficult election cycles in which the GOP faced outside money.