Champions Theory of Conventions

In watching the recent imbroglio surrounding the nomination of a GOP candidate in the 50th Virginia General Assembly House of Delegates (HOD)district, it seems appropriate to note that watching conventions is very simple. It is simply a matter of two champions duking it out, and the winner moves on.

While the title “Champions Theory of Conventions” is mine, the concept was revealed to me thirty years ago by the genius of Hunter Thompson in his book “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972”, in which Thompson followed the brutal struggle for the Democratic nomination to run against Richard Nixon. Thompson described a plan by which John Lindsay would vanquish the liberals in the field and then go head up with Ed Muskie for the nomination. However, George McGovern’s folks had through things through in greater depth and took the nod.

Nonetheless, the concept holds. Almost any nominating convention will have two sides, based in geography, ideology, fueds, money, religion, momentum, but something. All the candidates will fall within either of the two fields-shoot, some sides will have multiple subsets-and the initial struggles are all about who will emerge as the champion of the two sides, and then the last two standing will win an up or down vote on the last ballot.

There are some exceptions based on degree, or where the sides melt into multiple and almost incomprehensible elements and there is no clear organzing element for a side. I am reminded of the 1981 Va. GOP convention, which featured a three way race for the nod for LtGov and a volcano of emotion that hurt statewide candidates for a decade.

Herb Bateman (Tidewater, former byrd democrat, supported by Main Street Richmond), Guy Farley (Upper piedmont, Reagan campaign Virginia chairman and member of the 1980 platform committee, supported by religious and social conservatives), and Nathan Miller (Shenandoah Valley, more moderate on social issues, supported by the traditional Mountian/valley wing) did not differ on the issues by more than the width of a hair…however, they served as proxies for a variety of segments of the RPV, and two decades worth of various slights, fights, faults, and grievances played out and pushed folks from one candidate to the other. Bateman and Farley were former democrats, Miller had not pulled early enough from the 1978 senatorial nominating convention and endangered Dick Obenshain’s nomination, Bateman supporters thought Farley was a rube, Farley supporters though Bateman’s late entry was aimed at their guy. Voting reactions were emotional an not intellectual, and the convention set off a decade of iternal strife for the Virginia GOP…in great part because there were no clealry identified sides, and the items that separated were based in emotion and personality and not issues.

However, that type of event is the exception only in how the sides are chosen. A convention is a process of two sides choosing their champion. The filing process and mass meetings and initial ballots are where the candidates are sorted and the champions chosen, and then the chosen champions slug it out in one final ballot.


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