Former U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, left, accepts congratulations from Kevin Bailey. Photo by Rachel Mahoney.
Former U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, left, accepts congratulations from Kevin Bailey. Photo by Rachel Mahoney.

Tom Garrett will be returning to the General Assembly after a close Republican convention Saturday, in which he ultimately siphoned another candidate’s supporters in the three-way race.

The former 5th District congressman staged a comeback to politics after recovery from alcoholism, winning against Appomattox County lawyer Kevin Bailey and Goochland County small business owner and marketing consultant Jennie Wood. Garrett previously served in the state Senate for five years, then was elected in 2016 to Congress. He left after one term, citing the need to focus on his battle against alcholism. With no Democrat registered to run in a strongly conservative district, Garrett is a shoo-in to take the seat come January.

All three ran on similar party platforms, with some slight differences in what they’d do in the statehouse regarding marijuana and how they approach restricting or banning abortion.

By the end of the nearly five-hour convention, the candidates were focused more on how united they are in purpose and encouraged a unified conservative front.

The first round of voting on Saturday was too close to call, with Bailey netting 39.03% of the delegates’ vote to Garrett’s 36.6% and Wood’s 24.37%. In a second round of speeches before the final round of votes, Wood threw her support behind Garrett and each candidate commended their fellow candidates for a race well run.

After the second round of votes, Bailey moved to nominate Garrett through acclamation, ceding the vote to his rival and averting a final tally announcement.

“Jennie and Tom, we’ve been in the trenches, campaigning, working hard, but we were all fighting for Virginia,” he said before the final vote. “We’re all fighting for parents, we’re all fighting for our rights. So no matter who wins, we’re going forward today as Virginians, as conservatives.”

Garrett and Wood were poised against Bailey following an Appomattox County meeting over the selection of delegates and alternates for the convention, which led to accusations that Bailey slated his county’s delegates.

With 185 registered delegates from Appomattox turning out at Cumberland County High School for the Saturday convention, a section of alternates with blinking “Let me VOTE” pins sat apart and showed their support for Garrett. 

One, Jo Billings, said she was at the March meeting in Appomattox and felt disenfranchised, making it a point to follow through with her vote as an alternate.

“I see big egos and a lot of ambition, but in Tom Garrett, I see statesmanship, and that’s what I’m really looking for,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one who counted Garrett’s prior experience as a legislator to his credit in the race. Richard Yowell, of Fluvanna County, cast his vote for Wood first, but chose Garrett over Bailey in the second round for his experience.

Having spoken extensively with Wood when she visited delegates door-to-door, Yowell said she seemed tough and like she could push for Republican priorities in Richmond. All three were equivalent to his eye on the issues.

In the Bailey supporter section of Appomattox voters, John Caldwell spoke to the candidate’s commitment to godly principles, having sung alongside him in their church’s choir.

“I also know him to be a man of the people and I feel like he would represent all of the communities … very well because he’s engaged,” he said.

Bailey said he has work to catch up on at his private law practice, but having made friends across the district on the campaign trail, he’s going to keep up political momentum moving into 2024.

“I think we’ve got a great opportunity as Republicans to win back the Senate, and so that’s going to be my focus: team up with Jennie and Tom and the other Republican leaders and win back the Senate,” he said. “That’s the next goal.”

Despite tensions along the campaign trail, Garrett was complimentary of his running rivals and called those present to “push the football as far down the field as fast as we can.”

Following his win, he said that he’ll be able to do a better job this go around without the fog of alcoholism impeding him.

“I’m grateful and I’m humbled that they trusted me to have the opportunity to serve again,” he said.

For a full list of who’s running for what in legislative seats in Southwest and Southside, see our election guide.

House District 56. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 56. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

Rachel Mahoney has worked as a journalist in Virginia for seven years and has won several press awards....