MIDLOTHIAN, Va. — One candidate brands himself a “conservative outlaw.” Another boasts of her bipartisan censure by the State Senate for calling the Capitol rioters “patriots.” A third, asked about Dominion voting machines — the subject of egregious conspiracy theories on the right — called them “the most important issue” of the campaign.
These are not fringe candidates for the Republican nomination for Virginia governor.
They are three of the leading contenders in a race that in many ways embodies the decade-long meltdown of Republican power in Virginia, a once-purple state that has gyrated more decisively toward Democrats than perhaps any in the country. In part, that is because of the hard-right focus of recent Republican officeseekers, a trend that preceded former President Donald J. Trump and became a riptide during his time in the White House.
The party’s race to the right shows no sign of tempering as a preselected group of Republicans gather on Saturday at 39 sites around Virginia to choose a nominee for governor. That candidate will advance to a November general election that has traditionally been a report card on the party in power in Washington, as well as a portent of the midterms nationally.
After a monthslong G.O.P. schism, Virginia Republicans decided to hold a nominating convention rather than a primary, which would attract a broader field of voters. At the party’s “disassembled convention,” as it is called, delegates who have been vetted by local Republican officials will choose the nominee, which critics say perpetuates the party’s narrow appeal.
Al and Julia Kent, moderate Republican voters in the Richmond suburbs, won’t be participating.
“It’s so confusing,” said Mr. Kent, an Air Force veteran who found the paperwork to register for Saturday’s nominating process to be intrusive. He said it had asked questions that “the Republican Party doesn’t need to know.”
His wife, a retired preschool teacher, said, “I don’t think the Republican Party is listening to anybody — the normal class of people, what they want.”
The Kents both voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020, but they are worried about his legacy of divisiveness, in America and the G.O.P. “I think he’s ruined the Republican Party,” Ms. Kent said.
A poll this week by Christopher Newport University found that majorities of Virginia voters supported liberal policies, including “Medicare for all,” a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and a Green New Deal to tackle climate change.
Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the Republican candidates for governor this year fit into three categories: “Trumpy, Trumpier, Trumpiest.”
By embracing the former president, who lost Virginia by 10 percentage points last year, Republicans are trading electability in the general election for viability in a primary. “They play the Republican nominating game very well, but they go so far to the right that most people find them offensive,” Mr. Sabato said. “It’s not respectable anymore for well-educated people to identify with the Trump G.O.P.”