RICHMOND, Va. — A conservative provocateur and supporter of President Donald Trump won Virginia’s Republican primary Tuesday in the U.S. Senate race, and he has promised to run a “vicious” campaign against incumbent Tim Kaine.
No Democrats challenged Kaine, a former governor and 2016 vice-presidential candidate, for his party’s nomination.
Republican Corey Stewart beat state lawmaker Nick Freitas and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson. Stewart had long been on the fringe of the state’s GOP; now the win makes him the standard-bearer of a deeply divided party that hasn’t won a statewide race in nearly a decade.
A one-time state chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Stewart nearly won the 2017 Republican nomination for governor, despite being heavily outspent.
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors chairman and attorney has courted controversy throughout his political career. He was fired from the Trump campaign after staging an unsanctioned protest at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, which Stewart said wasn’t sufficiently loyal to Trump during the presidential campaign.
Stewart campaigned heavily last year on preserving Virginia’s Confederate monuments and is an immigrant hard-liner who boasts of the number of immigrants in the country illegally who have been deported from his county.
Once a key swing state whose Senate elections drew intense national interest, this year’s race has gotten scant attention. Kaine is the early favorite to win, and the Republican primary was noteworthy for how sleepy it was. Several higher-profile Republicans floated the possibility of running against Kaine, but they did not follow through after Democrats scored huge victories in November in state-level elections. That left establishment Republicans to rally behind Freitas, a libertarian-leaning former Green Beret and two-term state House delegate.
Freitas largely ignored Stewart until the campaign’s final days, when he criticized him for associating in the past with racists, including Paul Nehlen, a Republican challenger to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan who has been suspended from Twitter after a series of racist and anti-Semitic posts.
“I don’t think Corey Stewart is a racist. But I know he has horrible judgment,” Freitas said in his final digital ad campaign.
Stewart has disavowed those interactions and accused Freitas of adopting left-wing tactics to try and silence conservative viewpoints.
None of the candidates raised much money, though Freitas was helped by large last-minute spending from a super PAC aligned with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and the tea party group Americans for Prosperity.