Billed by many political watchers as the bellwether of what Virginia will ultimately send to Ohio this summer, the gathering of the GOP at George Wythe High School didn’t disappoint.
And the divide between Ted Cruz supporters and those backing Donald Trump was visible, from the buttons and stickers each camp wore prominently to the signs and T-shirts on display.
After an eight-hour day of politicking, including nearly three hours of steady vote counting, 9th District Republicans had their slate of delegates to send to the Republican National Conventions in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18-21.
Party faithful, around 200 of them, picked Kyle Kilgore of Gate City, Jordan Labiosa of New Castle and Landon Davis of Grundy as their delegates.
Alternate delegates, the fourth-through sixth-highest vote-getters from the field of 15, were Robert Taconet of Salem and wife and husband attorneys Tamara and Flux Neo of Tazewell.
The 9th District’s gathering to select delegates for the national convention was the first in Virginia, drawing eyes of those watching the fight between Trump and Cruz to line up delegates. Convention delegates are bound to cast their votes to the winner of the primary, in the 9th District, Trump, but can vote differently on subsequent ballots.
Some of those picked as delegates, like Labiosa, signaled their allegiances. The head of the Craig County Republican Party is a Cruz backer but told The Roanoke Times that no matter who wins, the party establishment loses.
“The conservative base has already won this nomination,” he said.
At the convention, Labiosa promised to oppose any rule that would prevent Trump or Cruz from being the party’s nominee.
Others, like the Neos, did more than signal.
“Trump carried the 9th,” Flux Neo said. “Period.”
Neo and his wife said while they’d love to see Cruz on the vice presidential ticket or as a Supreme Court nominee, they are committed to Trump completely in “round one, round 10 and round 100.”
Tamara Neo, the former Buchanan County Commonwealth’s Attorney, is the co-chair of the Trump district campaign. Flux Neo recently lost a bid to become the Tazewell County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
As pro-Trump as the Neos are, Patrick Muldoon, who did not receive enough votes to go to Ohio, is pro-Cruz. The Giles County native who lost to Rick Boucher in a 1996 for Congress and ran a 2009 long-shot campaign for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination, losing to Bill Bolling, told the crowd that “a vote for Muldoon today is a vote for Cruz in Cleveland.”
Taconet is the youngest of those heading to Ohio by a good margin. The 18-year-old Bland County native said he attended his first Republican meeting four years ago, getting his father involved so he could “unofficially vote.”
Taconet, who said he’s supporting Cruz, told the crowd at George Wythe that President Obama has let his generation down and that he’s getting involved to show the country that conservatives are alive and well.
Despite his age, Taconet has a long – as long as an 18-year-old can have – of working in politics. In 2012, he served as a Senate page out of Bland County. He later interned for state Sen. David Suetterlein, Nancy Dye and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte.
Others in vying for the three delegate and three alternate positions were Charles Anthony of Bassett, Caleb Cruey of Cedar Bluff, Jay Gregory of Stuart, Kayleigh Hall of Radford, Howard McCready of of Pulaski, Patrick Muldoon of Hoges Chapel, Mark Rose of Cleveland, John Seaborn of Bristol, Virginia and Aaron Smith of Pulaski. Judi Lynch of Christiansburg withdrew on April 3, and Lynette Rash of Tazewell pulled out the next day.
The 9th District Republicans also picked a presidential elector, giving the nod by a wide margin to John Rainero of Bristol, Virginia, over Vernon Hayes of Pulaski and Joseph Painter Jr. of Blacksburg.
The 9th Congressional District, a mostly rural and conservative part of Virginia, contains all of Lee, Wise, Dickenson, Buchanan, Scott, Russell, Tazewell, Washington, Smyth, Bland, Giles, Grayson, Wythe, Pulaski, Montgomery, Carroll, Craig, Floyd and Patrick counties, portions of Alleghany, Roanoke and Henry counties and the cities of Bristol, Virginia, Galax, Martinsville, Norton, Radford and Salem.
In the March primary, 9th Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters in every locality save one – Martinsville – and Trump supporters vastly outnumbered Cruz, Rubio or Kasich backers in every single locality, often by landslide digits. Overall in the district, Trump took 47 percent of the Republican vote. Things were more favorable in many of the counties. In Wythe County, where the local convention was held Trump received 54 percent of the votes. Marco Rubio, who finished second, claimed 19 percent. The results were even more favorable in the coal-producing counties, like Buchanan, where Trump received 70 percent of the vote to Rubio’s 14 percent and Cruz’s 12 percent. Even in the less rural Montgomery County, home to Virginia Tech, Trump bested the field, claiming a narrow 33 percent to 32 percent victory over Rubio.