The speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, on Tuesday endorsed Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, in one of the most closely watched nomination battles in Southwest Virginia this year.
Williams faces his colleague Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, in a June 20 primary. The two lawmakers were drawn into the newly created 47th House District that was approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in December 2021. The district includes Carroll, Patrick and Floyd counties, parts of Henry County and the city of Galax.
Gilbert’s public endorsement of Williams is unusual as it shows his preference for one Republican candidate over another running for the same House seat. “Delegate Williams is the type of effective leader we need in Richmond,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Leaders like Wren don’t just talk, they get things done.”
Gilbert praised Williams for successfully passing religious liberty protections and for his efforts in fighting for increased punishments for violent crime, in addition to his votes “to protect Second Amendment rights” from what he called “the radical Democrats” in the General Assembly.
“Wren is the type of fighter we need in the House, and I look forward to continuing to work with him to fight for our conservative agenda,” Gilbert said in the statement.
Both March and Williams are freshman lawmakers who were first elected in November 2021. In the 7th House District, March, an entrepreneur from Floyd, replaced former Del. Nick Rush, R-Montgomery County, who retired after serving five terms. Williams, an attorney from Stuart, succeeded seven-term incumbent Del. Charles Poindexter, whom he defeated in the Republican primary in the 9th House District earlier in 2021.
While Williams has cast himself as a savvy lawmaker who despite his conservative convictions has often worked with Democrats in Richmond to get legislation passed, March has lived up to her reputation as an anti-establishment candidate who has alienated many of her Republican colleagues and got no legislation passed this year.
Both lawmakers made news last September, when March swore out an assault warrant against Williams after he bumped into her at a GOP fundraiser in Wytheville. Williams was acquitted in January after a judge found that the prosecutor “fell short” in proving that the contact between the two legislators was intentional.
The winner of the June primary will face Democrat Patty Quesenberry in November.
“I am thankful for the support of Speaker Gilbert,” Williams said in a statement Tuesday. “Todd and I have been fighting for the rights of all Virginians in the House of Delegates. Together, we are fighting to expand gun rights, restrict abortion access, and increase religious liberty protections. I am proud of the work that we have accomplished, and I will continue to fight for our conservative values in Richmond.”
Gilbert on Tuesday also endorsed Del. Jason Ballard, R-Pearisburg, another freshman member of the House of Delegates who faces an intra-party challenge from part-time musician and contract employee Jody Pyles, a former legislative aide for state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County, in the 42nd House District.
Gilbert called Ballard a leader in the House who is “getting real results” for his constituents. “The New River Valley elected a fighter in Jason, and we need him to be re-elected so we can continue advancing a common-sense, conservative agenda to make our Commonwealth the best place to live, work, raise a family, and retire,” Gilbert said.
Ballard also received endorsements from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares last month.
The contest between Ballard and Pyles will be settled at a June 3 GOP mass meeting at New River Community College in Dublin. No Democrat has announced a general election challenge yet in the district, which includes Giles County, Radford and parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Williams also received endorsements from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares. But these endorsements related to Ballard. The story has been updated accordingly.