Just days after Democrats regained full control of the legislature Tuesday by flipping the House of Delegates blue, the fight over the leadership of the Republican caucus has begun.
Leading the charge is Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, the current House majority leader. According to several Republicans familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity to discuss party wrangling, Kilgore has been emailing members of his caucus, asking for their vote as the future minority leader — the top Republican job in the House once the new General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Kilgore said in a text message Friday afternoon that the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections “requires a new kind of leader for a new political reality.”
“In looking at the future and where we stand as a caucus, I am confident in my ability to lead our House Republican team and ensure we amplify the winning message that I know we have to win elections,” Kilgore said. “I am eager to build a new generation of leaders while promoting collaboration within our caucus to ensure every member’s voice is heard. We must also embrace a pragmatic approach to legislative strategy.”
House Republicans and the vast majority of Virginians share a similar vision for the future of the commonwealth, Kilgore added. “It is up to us to properly communicate that message and make the correct political decisions to regain the majority.”
House Republicans are set to meet Sunday and are likely to elect new leadership that day. Included are sitting members who did not retire or lose their primary races, and the new members who will be sworn in next January.
Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, currently is the most senior Republican in the House. He has also emailed members of his caucus about his future role, which was received well, according to two Republicans. Gilbert’s spokesman did not respond to emails and text messages Friday.
This isn’t the first time that the lawmaker from Shenandoah has clashed with his colleague from Gate City over the leadership position in the lower chamber.
Just one day after Republicans swept all three of Virginia’s statewide offices and reclaimed the majority in the House in 2021, Kilgore announced that he would run for speaker. Less than 24 hours later, Gilbert followed suit and announced his bid for the top job in the House.
But in less than a week, both Republicans had worked out an agreement and formally endorsed each other for House leadership positions, averting an intra-party feud that could have dragged out for weeks. In a joint statement to the House GOP caucus at the time, Kilgore said that he would support Gilbert’s bid for speaker, and in return, Gilbert backed Kilgore as the new House majority leader.
Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington, said that it is common after a party loses a majority for there to be a conversation about leadership change.
“Two recent speakers, Republican Kirk Cox and Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn, didn’t remain in leadership after their party’s defeat,” Farnsworth said. “The reality is that no matter how much you may or may not be to blame for the election results, the party leadership starts talking about a new direction when there is a defeat.”
Although Tuesday’s election was largely a referendum on Gov. Glenn Youngkin given his “aggressive efforts to build the Republican field,” the Republican speaker may end up paying the price, Farnsworth added.
“There are a lot of ambitious people in politics, and when there is an opportunity to move up, there is often somebody ready to go. Some people may say we have seen this movie before, but the situation in 2023 is quite different for Republicans than it was in 2021 in the House.”
Kilgore, who was reelected without facing an opponent in Tuesday’s election, has represented the state’s westernmost district — now called House District 45 — since 1994. He currently serves on the Commerce and Energy, Courts of Justice and the Rules committees.