By Gregory S. Schneider | The Washington Post
Virginia Republicans turned bright red Tuesday, selecting the more-Trump-than-Trump Corey Stewart as their nominee to challenge Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate as primary elections played out in congressional districts across the state.
The matchup ensures Virginia will keep re-litigating the 2016 presidential race in this fall’s election, with Stewart running in outrageous Trump-like fashion against Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in her failed bid for the presidency.
Republican voters preferred Stewart, who has promised a “vicious” campaign, over a more mainstream option in Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, a former Green Beret who had support from the party establishment.
Freitas posted a surprisingly strong challenge, with the lead tipping back and forth until the final precincts reported at nearly 9 p.m. and populous Fairfax County put Stewart over the top. Stewart prevailed with about 45 percent of the vote to about 43 percent for Freitas.
Stewart’s presence atop the ticket will cast a shadow over all Virginia congressional races this year. He’s sure to excite the most fervent parts of the Republican base, especially in rural areas, but his identification with Donald Trump also is likely to inspire Democratic voters to come out against him.
At Stewart’s election night party at the Electric Palm Restaurant, overlooking the Occoquan River in Woodbridge, supporters erupted in cheers when he was projected the winner.
The crowd chanted “Corey! Corey!” as the loudspeaker blared “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“It’s definitely a positive for Virginia,” said Jan Hall, who drove to the party from Midlothian. “I’ve been a supporter of Trump all along, and Corey is on his side. I’m so glad Virginia is staying red.”
In one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton beat out a field of five other Democrats in the 10th District to take on U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican incumbent seen as vulnerable in the Democratic quest to take back control of the House of Representatives.
Democrats also appeared to choose Elaine Luria to take on Rep. Scott Taylor in the 2nd District in Hampton Roads and Abigail A. Spanberger to challenge Rep. Dave Brat in the 7th District outside Richmond. In a year when female candidates are running in record numbers, that means Democrats will run three women to challenge vulnerable Republican incumbents in Virginia.
“I just feel like rallying that blue wave, getting as much grass-roots base-type support” as possible, said Democratic voter Jeanine Callahan, 59, from Oak Hill. Trump’s victory spurred her to get involved in politics, she said. “I think we need to match the sentiment that he was able to rally.”
Any Republican faces an uphill climb statewide in Virginia, the only Southern state that didn’t go for Trump two years ago. Kaine is a popular former governor with strong support in the suburbs and among African American voters.
Voter turnout Tuesday was generally low despite most of the state enjoying mild spring weather. Some in the Washington region may have been distracted by the Capitals’ midday Stanley Cup parade, but it didn’t stop Democrats from showing up at the polls in greater number than Republicans in many locations.
Early absentee-voting numbers suggested the Republican Senate primary attracted less enthusiasm than last year’s primary for governor. The number of voters who have already cast absentee ballotswas down about 10 percent compared with the same point in 2017, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project.
Virginia, along with a handful of other states, is seen as a key to Democratic hopes for reclaiming a majority in the U.S. House this year.
“I feel stronger now than I have in a long time, in terms of trying to counter what this administration has done,” said Paul Bouey, a 64-year-old public health adviser from McLean who voted in the Democratic primary.
Democrats made big gains in Virginia elections last year, wiping out a 2-to-1 Republican advantage in the House of Delegates. Those gains led the closely divided Virginia legislature to finally vote to expand Medicaid this year under the Affordable Care Act, something the Republican majorities in the General Assembly had resisted for four straight years.
One issue that resisted cross-party compromise, though, was guns – and that topic seemed high on the minds of voters at polling places around the state Tuesday.
“We need to make common-sense [gun-control] legislation,” said Deborah Mangano, 55, a voter in Prince William. “We need to get people in who believe the same way and aren’t backed by” the National Rifle Association.
Perhaps the only topic that seemed more polarizing among voters interviewed Tuesday was Trump, who has low overall approval in Virginia but inspires fierce loyalty among a subset of state Republicans.
Virginia Republicans have struggled with the Trump factor, which was blamed last year for GOP nominee Ed Gillespie’s nine-point loss in the governor’s race. Republican turnout was low — so low that Gillespie nearly lost the nomination to Stewart, who rallied the pro-Trump base.
Other big-name Republicans stayed out of this year’s U.S. Senate race, and party leaders fretted over the likelihood that Stewart would get the nomination. But Republicans haven’t won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009, and after last year’s drubbing, there was little appetite to take on Kaine in the current environment.
Kaine is heavily favored to win and has more than $10.5 million cash on hand. None of the three Republicans chasing the nomination cracked $1 million; Stewart raised the most, with about $841,000. While Stewart most closely resembles Trump in his bombastic style, all three GOP candidates supported the president.
Source: East Bay Trump ally wins right to take on Sen. Tim Kaine in Virginia