LOVINGSTON — State Sen. Tom Garrett won an interparty endurance contest for the 5th Congressional District Republican nomination.
The decision came Saturday evening after a three-ballot battle of attrition that started at 11 a.m.
Charlottesville-area technology executive Michael Del Rosso was the last to fall at Nelson County High School, where 856 district Republicans elected their nominee by convention to face former Albemarle County Supervisor Jane Dittmar, a Democrat.
Rules requiring a majority to win and eliminating the lowest vote-getter on each ballot took Bedford-area developer Jim McKelvey out first, followed by former congressional security adviser Joseph Whited.
Garrett, who won the final ballot with 58 percent, said after his victory speech that being a second choice for many was important in outlasting three opponents.
“I just tried to treat everybody like I wanted to be treated the whole race. We felt like at a convention if you can’t be somebody’s first choice, it’s good to be their second choice,” Garrett said. “It’s neat because I feel like I made friends on this race with some of my opponents.”
A turning point in the electoral tournament came right after McKelvey learned he placed fourth and would not advance.
Del Rosso was slightly ahead the first round with 32 percent of the weighted vote compared with Garrett’s just less than 30 percent. Whited followed with 20 percent.
After only earning 17 percent in the first round, McKelvey took up a Garrett placard and walked around the room with the state senator presenting his endorsement. Fliers announcing the endorsement followed shortly.
In an interview while delegates cast second ballots, McKelvey said he supported Garrett because he believes he is the “most electable” and “a good staunch conservative.” McKelvey, who along with many candidates running for many offices has railed against Washington insiders, said he struck no deals ahead of the race.
“I don’t make deals with anybody. That’s part of the problem with politics. Everybody wants to make a deal with this side or the other. That’s gotta stop,” McKelvey said.
Del Rosso spokesman Gray Delany said after the convention closed that losing McKelvey’s support turned the momentum away from his candidate.
“That was major,” Delany said, saying that the campaign was “very disappointed” in McKelvey’s decision.
In an impassioned speech leading into the third ballot vote, Del Rosso fired at his final opponent, saying Garrett had attacked him throughout the race.
Local delegates reported hearing negative attacks aimed at both Del Rosso and Garrett during the election, including anonymous phone calls and online posts.
“He slandered me in Buckingham County, called me a liar … a snake oil salesman,” Del Rosso said, referring to Garrett.
After the convention had closed, Delany said his candidate “got frustrated because it’s been a long campaign against him.”
“We were disappointed by some of the tactics used against Michael,” Delany said. He said Del Rosso had left the convention at that time.
When asked to respond to Del Rosso’s charge, Garrett stayed positive.
“God bless Michael Del Rosso. He’s a good man. He loves his country and I’d love to listen to him on any subject matter he feels we need to know more about,” Garrett said. “We just did it easy, fun, and I got respect for him and the other folks in the field.”
Upon his departure from the race, Whited chose to endorse neither candidate.
“It’s their choice to pick who their congressman is, it’s not for me to tell them who they should vote for,” Whited said in an interview echoing his departure speech to delegates.
In his opening speech, Whited referred to negativity that came out in the race. The convention was mostly decided by recruiting pledged delegates to run at local mass meetings across a district the size of New Jersey and in personal conversations with undecided voters.
“Our campaign refused to be dragged into the mudslinging, and instead we remained focused on the things that mattered to our friends and neighbors,” Whited said in the speech.
After this departure from the race, Whited declined to clarify on the specifics of “mudslinging” or which candidates were involved.
The opening in the Republican-friendly district was created by three-term Rep. Robert Hurt’s decision to not seek re-election. Hurt, a Republican, spoke at the beginning of Saturday’s convention.
The 5th District includes the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Madison and Nelson counties.
Alex Rohr reports for The (Lynchburg) News & Advance.