Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli scored a potentially game-changing victory this month in an already nasty gubernatorial race when Tea Party activists threatened to force the party to hold a convention to elect statewide nominees in 2013.
State Republicans held mini conventions during the first half of May to elect chairmen for the 11 congressional districts and name representatives to the Republican State Central Committee before next month's state convention.
The arcane process rarely garners attention from anyone but party figures and political hounds. But this year, Tea Party groups saw it as an opportunity to grab hold of the Republican Party at its roots.
In all, Tea Party-approved candidates won 24 races of 44 races, contesting elections in nine of the 11 districts and possibly creating enough support to switch the party from a primary in 2013 to a convention.
That would favor Cuccinelli, a conservative darling, in his bid against Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling because conventions typically draw the most ardent Republicans while independents and moderates, who favor Bolling, would be left on the sidelines.
"It's not a done deal. It's close," said Rick Buchanan, who helped spearhead the effort for the Federation of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots. "Since there was a big swing, people that were voting against conventions before, at this point there's going to be a lot of pressure on them to go with the flow."
The state GOP voted 51-28 last October to hold a primary next year after hosting a convention in 2009. Switching back to a convention would require Republican officials to change the game in the middle of the race when six candidates have already prepared campaigns for various offices, and that type of boat-rocking isn't common.
Republicans who now find themselves outside the party operation accused Cuccinelli of orchestrating the takeover.
"Why would he be afraid to face the people [in a primary]?" asked Tom Foley, who lost his 1st district chairmanship.
Cuccinelli favored a convention during the party's October vote and his campaign again reiterated that support Wednesday.
"We've been anticipating running in a primary, but we'd obviously rather use the $2-3 million we'd save in a convention ... against Democrats in a general election," spokesman Noah Wall said.
Bolling spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick retorted that switching to a convention was "a clear violation of the commitment to the rule of law."
She added, "The question has clearly already been resolved."
For the Tea Party, this month was an opportunity to showcase how their efforts have shifted from large outdoor rallies to a more organized political machine.
Joked Ron Wilcox of the Northern Virginia Tea Party: "We did this all while being dead, remember?"