Ex-GOP candidates making solo runs

Some former area Republicans might have a new motto: If you can’t run with them, run against them.

As election season continues, Republican committees in Shenandoah and Warren counties have seen some longtime supporters pursue independent campaigns for offices when the party doesn’t pick them to run. Craig Orndorff, vice chairman of the Shenandoah County Republican Committee, says this happens in local elections more often than people might think.

Sarona Irvin, chief deputy clerk of the Shenandoah County Circuit Court, lost the party’s nomination to David George to run for the clerk’s office. Irvin subsequently embarked on a campaign to run as an independent.

Longtime Republican Conrad Helsley, supervisor for District 6, did not file with the Republican Committee to seek its nomination to run for another term. The committee nominated S. John Massoud – the only person who filed. Shortly after the convention, Helsley announced his plans to run for another term as an independent candidate.

“Again, we have a nominee for [Helsley’s office],” Orndorff said. “It sounds like he’s decided to seek signatures and get on the ballot … Once everything is official he’ll no longer be a member of our committee either.”

The Republican Party of Virginia plan states that a sitting member of a committee who runs against a nominated candidate for an office is deemed to have resigned from the organization, Orndorff noted.

In Warren County last month, Ralph Rinaldi lost the party committee’s nomination to Thomas Sayre to run for the Shenandoah District seat on the Board of Supervisors. Rinaldi, a member of the Planning Commission, then resigned from the Republican Committee and, a day later, announced his intentions to run for the seat as an independent candidate. Rinaldi said then his campaign supporters encouraged him to keep running.

Some Warren County Republicans have called for Rinaldi to end his independent campaign. Others claim Rinaldi turned his back on the party and its candidate.

Irvin said Thursday she has notified Orndorff that she intended to resign from the committee in which she served for 20 years. The resignation will become official if and when she submits her campaign paperwork to the county registrar. Irvin said her ideals are those of the Republican Party and the committee should have nominated her.

“I’m very disappointed with how they’ve been behaving,” Irvin said.

Whether a party’s backing can make or break a local election campaign against independent candidates remains uncertain.

“I still feel like I can win as an independent, but I definitely felt like I could win if I had the party backing ’cause it’s a Republican county,” Irvin said.

As past local elections in Shenandoah County have shown, some former Republican supporters who went independent ended up winning elections. Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz failed to receive the Republican Committee nominations to run for board seats. Bailey defeated Republican Steve Shaffer and Democrat Emily Scott while Shruntz unseated longtime Republican board member Dennis Morris. Bailey and Shruntz ran their campaigns on a platform of no more tax increases and to curb spending.

“So I think there is some dissatisfaction with some sitting board members about [tax increases],” Orndorff said.

“There certainly has been some disagreement about spending decisions and, you know, it’s even taken quite some movement within the board itself,” Orndorff added. “The sitting board members who are Republicans are not 100-percent monolithic when it comes to spending.”

In 2011, Amanda Wiseley and Jeremy McCleary sought the Republican committee’s nomination to run for commonwealth’s attorney. The committee nominated McCleary and Wiseley ran as an independent and subsequently won the election. In 2003, five people, all of whom had some connection to the Republican committee, ran for sheriff. Circuit Court Clerk Denise Barb Estep didn’t receive the committee’s nomination in 1991, ran a successful campaign as an independent and returned to the party in 1999 when she sought re-election. Estep resigned from the party in 2007 over a disagreement with the Board of Supervisors about funding for her office and, in 2011, backed Wiseley’s campaign.

Some independent candidates running for Shenandoah County offices steered clear of the political party committees altogether. Mike Wakeman is running as an independent against Supervisor Steve Baker, who is seeking re-election to the District 2 board seat as the Republican candidate. Strasburg Town Councilman Robert Baker also is planning to run as an independent for the District 6 seat. In the race for the circuit court clerk’s office, three other candidates have announced intentions to run, including Tammy Heishman and Lisa Long, both independents, and Adam Sharp as the Democratic Party candidate.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com