With nine candidates and an unpredictable electorate it is virtually impossible to tell who has the edge going into this weekend's Republican convention.
We know Ken Cuccinelli will end up as the nominee for Governor, but both the Attorney General's race with two established legislators competing, and the Lt. Governor's race featuring seven candidates of various stripes, will make for an interesting if not volatile Saturday in Richmond.
There is no candidate, or campaign that demonstrates that potential unpredictability better than Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart.
Stewart entered the race as an early front runner, simply based on his experience and his effort to build a statewide brand. He has flirted with statewide runs in the past. However as the field got crowded his campaign has worked hard to stand out from the crowd. In some instances that has led to positive attention, in other areas it has led to controversy.
Late last week, Stewart told me that heading into Saturday he considers himself to be the one to beat.
"I'm clearly the front runner," Stewart said and he points to two specific examples of what has pushed him to the front of the pack.
The first is his support from The Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation and the Middle Resolution PAC, a Tea-Party related activist group based out of Richmond. The Tea Party Patriots Federation is a loosely based organizational structure of the various Tea Party groups throughout Virginia. While the Federation leadership expressed support for Stewart, each individual Tea Party group can choose to support a separate candidate if they see fit and several have.
However Stewart believes that the endorsement of this large association demonstrates his commitment to smaller government and fiscal restraint.
"People know that we have to return some fiscal sanity to the Commonwealth's budget and the Nation's," he said.
But Stewart's campaign has also had it's stumbles. The past several weeks he has been forced to beat back accusations that he was either directly or implicitly connected to a series of web attack ads against opponents Pete Snyder and Scott Lingamfelter. The source of the ads is not clear and the rumors have caught fire in the conservative blogosphere, even reaching the popular national site Breitbart.com.
Stewart emphatically denied any connection at all to the ads and said it was just another example of his detractors working to de-rail his campaign.
"We haven't attacked any of our opponents," Stewart said flatly. He went on to say that "Talk about personal attacks? The personal attacks have been more against me than anyone else."
He made it clear that he has nothing to do with the ads.
"We are not behind those ads, We wouldn't support them and at the same time I'd ask my opponents to kinda lay off me as well."
But while Stewart has denied that connection, and any connection to the mysterious group behind the ads, his story changed a bit during a candidate forum in Henrico Friday night.
Breitbart columnist Michael Patrick Leahy recounted an exchange between Stewart and Richmond Tea Party member Larry Nordvig.
Nordvig Question: "Do you agree with these ads and did you have any connection to them whatsoever for the record?"
Corey Stewart Answer: "Am I connected? Yes. I have donated money to that organization."
Nordvig Question. "At least a couple of these candidates fought against these budget increases, specifically Steve Martin...The information on the flyer is not correct so this information is misleading. Will you do the right thing and publicly condemn these ads as false?"
Corey Stewart Answer: “No, I’m not going to do it. I play hardball. This is politics.”
Leahy has statements from several people at the meeting who confirmed the exchange. Nordviq was holding up mail pieces attacking several candidates paid for by "Virginians for Limited Government". Stewart said he donated to the group, but denied having any direct connection with the production of the mail pieces or web ads.
The candidate told me the accusations and innuendo are byproducts of his momentum going into Saturday.
"This is why I have been the subject of so many accusations and so many attacks," Stewart said. "As soon as the Tea Party endorsed me last week the knives came out. I got attacked from every sector and have been called every name in the book."
The source of the ads remains a mystery but many Republicans privately are convinced Stewart had some hand in their production. The candidate continues to deny any connection.
What the delegates believe could determine if Stewart is the actual front runner he thinks he is.
Our full interview with Stewart, including his thoughts on the future of immigration reform can be found below.