On June 1 and 2, thousands of Republican delegates will pour into Richmond to attend the Virginia Republican Convention at the Richmond Coliseum. The big event will include appearances by leaders of the party, high-tech lighting, music, a wide variety of food, and, of course, speeches by candidates and floor demonstrations. The voting will take place on Saturday, June 2. But on the night leading up to the selection of the candidates, the various campaigns will hold parties for their delegates. Here, people will get a chance to meet gubernatorial candidates Mark Earley and John Hager; the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Del. Jay Katzen (R-Fauquier); and former secretary of public safety Jerry Kilgore, who will be vying for the attorney general's office. Style Weekly recently spoke with two key players in the convention: Quintin Kendall, campaign manger for Mark Earley; and Dennis Peterson, director of convention operations for Mark Earley. Kendall and Peterson are just two of the players in this two-day drama, but they are major ones in a campaign that most everyone believes will capture the gubernatorial nomination.
A representative of the Hager campaign could not be reached by press time.
Kendall has worked in the political world since 1993. Peterson is a battle-tested veteran whose political work in major political campaigns dates to 1976.
Style: The Virginia Republican Convention promises to be a large, very visible event. Give us an overview of what we will see at the convention. How many people will be attending? How many delegates will be present?
Kendall: Over 26,000 people signed up to be convention delegates this year. I think that speaks to the strength and the enthusiasm of our party. The largest convention was 14,000. So we have greater interest this year.
Style: Mark Earley was leading John Hager by 900 votes. There are still 1,300 uncommitted votes. Does John Hager have any real chance of victory at this point?
Kendall: These are the official numbers as certified by the Republican Party of Virginia. (Kendall refers to a printout that indicates a 925-delegate vote lead for Earley and a statement indicating that Hager needs to capture 85 percent of the 1,307 uncommitted delegates to win). In answer to your question, certainly Lt. Gov. Hager has a chance. He is a very popular figure. He is a strong campaigner. And his supporters are very dedicated to him. At this point, with all the delegates signed up, it comes down to a matter of turnout. Whichever campaign will be able to turn out a greater proportion of its supporters will probably win. We feel very good about the move of undecided delegates to Mark Earley's camp. But no election's decided until the votes are counted.
Style: It will be important for Republicans to work together in the fall. How do you plan to unify the party? What is the intended outcome of the convention?
Kendall: Conventions typically have served to unify the party unless there has been any skullduggery or dirty tricks going on during the process. I'm glad to say that hasn't happened. It has been a spirited campaign on the part of Lt. Gov. Hager. But both campaigns have played by the rules. They (Earley and Hager) both have the best interest of the party at heart. The Republican Party will be united because neither one of these candidates have given Republicans a reason to not stay involved. Let's face it, Republicans across Virginia like and respect both Mark Earley and John Hager. No one is coming to this convention to vote against a nominee. They're coming to vote for their favorite.
When you go back to the '93 convention where George Allen and Jim Gilmore were nominated, that served as the jumping off point for the Republican dominance we have in Virginia today. In '93, a tremendous amount of grass-roots activists came into the party. Now we're seeing a maturation process where a lot of those people are now party leaders. Since we haven't had a convention since that time, we're hoping that this convention will do the same thing. We're hoping that the new blood coming into the party will energize it for another strong, eight-year run of Republican victory.
Style: Political conventions often feature music performances. What type of musical entertainment will we see at the Republican Convention?
Kendall: At our hospitality suite, because it's a fiesta, there will be up-tempo Latin music. At the suite we try to limit the (political) speeches. Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson, will be there. She may provide some songs. Mark Earley has been known to pick up his guitar.
There will also be a mariachi band walking around playing mandolin and guitar. It's an added attraction. Some of our delegates come all the way from Southwest Virginia. We want them to have fun.
Peterson: One way you'll be able to find us is that right outside the Carpenter Center you will have a theatrical search light sweeping the sky. It's a way of adding a little bit of excitement.
Style: Political conventions are often very colorful affairs. Describe the lighting and decorations that will be used at the Richmond Coliseum for this big event.
Peterson: I know that Jay Katzen's campaign will use a dry-ice effect that looks like fog. The Coliseum is going to be predominantly dark, which dictates opposing that with light. We expect to use lighting in creative ways. Conventions are exercises in crowd psychology.
You want people there to get caught up in it (emotionally). Some people are inclined to go with a winner. If it's flat, dull and unemotional, people think that's a reflection on the candidate. You want to show the candidate in his best light.
Style: Will there be any big names in politics from outside of Virginia making guest appearances? Could we hope for a visit from President Bush or Vice President Cheney?
Kendall: It's not in the cards [to have Bush or Cheney]. But Carl Rove [senior adviser to President Bush] will be speaking at the Friday night Republican Party of Virginia's dinner. And we're blessed to have our own homegrown, Republican Party leaders. You will hear from our Governor [Gilmore], Senator [George] Allen, Sen. [John] Warner, and most if not all of our congressional delegation will be there. We used to have to bring in people to speak. Now that Virginia is at the forefront of national politics our big names are