Atop the ticket, Kaine ex­tends coat­tails to fel­low Democrats

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - Jeff E. Schapiro jschapiro@TimesDis­patch.com Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 6496814. His col­umn ap­pears Wed­nes­day and Sun­day. Watch his video col­umn and lis­ten to his podcast on Rich­mond. com. Fol­low him on Face­book and on Twit­ter, @RTDSchapiro. Lis­ten

Bar­bara Com­stock was a no-show at a meet-the can­di­dates event in her home county, Fair­fax.

Scott Tay­lor and Dave Brat say they’re too busy with their own cam­paigns in Hamp­ton Roads and the Rich­mond area, re­spec­tively.

Also, flank­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Rob Wittman hasn’t time on his elec­tion sched­ule for just any­one. In Vir­ginia, Repub­li­can House in­cum­bents are run­ning from Corey Ste­wart, their party’s en­fant ter­ri­ble and Se­nate nom­i­nee — not run­ning with him.

And for good rea­son. Ste­wart par­rots Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on im­mi­grants and guns and wraps him­self in the Con­fed­er­ate flag.

Ste­wart has ties to a promi­nent white na­tion­al­ist who helped or­ga­nize the 2017 rally in Char­lottesville in which a coun­ter­protester was killed. Ste­wart as­so­ci­ated with a

GOP can­di­date in Wis­con­sin who later was booted from Twit­ter be­cause of big­oted and anti-Semitic posts.

Ste­wart’s fundrais­ing is ane­mic: $840,000 col­lected; $161,000 on hand.

Plus, the state Repub­li­can Party is sud­denly lead­er­less, with John Whit­beck quit­ting as chair­man barely 3½ months be­fore what could be a grim Elec­tion Day for the GOP.

In con­trast, all of the Demo­cratic House chal­lengers can’t get close enough to fresh­man Sen. Tim Kaine, Amer­ica’s Dad as the 2016 vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. And for good rea­son.

Kaine is heav­ily fa­vored for re-elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to early polls, buoyed by en­dur­ing hos­til­ity for Trump in blue­trend­ing Vir­ginia.

Be­cause he is atop the Demo­cratic ticket for the first time since run­ning for gov­er­nor in 2005, Kaine is build­ing a high-tech and high-touch voter-mo­bi­liza­tion pro­gram for him­self and his run­ning mates. It could also help Democrats in the 2019 fight for the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Kaine has the money to pay for it, rais­ing nearly $17 mil­lion to­ward a $25 mil­lion goal and hav­ing about $11 mil­lion on hand, some of which could fi­nance a pre-La­bor Day tele­vi­sion ad buy.

And since Novem­ber, when Democrats swept statewide and picked up 15 seats in the House of Del­e­gates, Kaine has thrown $700,000 at the state Demo­cratic Party through a sep­a­rate fund that over the years has har­vested $6 mil­lion.

Kaine’s pop­u­lar­ity, his cam­paign’s in­fra­struc­ture and its full-to-burst­ing trea­sury mean that the seven Demo­cratic con­gres­sional chal­lengers are tripping over them­selves to be seen with Kaine, even in re­gions of the state tra­di­tion­ally hos­tile to the party.

Since the June 12 pri­maries, Kaine has ap­peared at more than 25 events with these can­di­dates.

Over this Fourth of July hol­i­day, that’s in­cluded stops for Jen­nifer Wex­ton, Elaine Luria and Abi­gail Span­berger, who are op­pos­ing Com­stock, Tay­lor and Brat, re­spec­tively, in races deemed doable for Democrats be­fore the added bag­gage for Repub­li­cans that is the Ste­wart can­di­dacy.

To ap­pre­ci­ate the sym­bio­sis that Kaine and Demo­cratic con­gres­sional can­di­dates hope to achieve, flash back to the fi­nale of the Repub­li­can Se­nate pri­mary, a con­test whose down-ticket im­pli­ca­tions had gone largely un­no­ticed.

There was a late surge of cash and ser­vices for Ste­wart’s prin­ci­pal ri­val in the three-way con­test, Nick Fre­itas, a two-term state leg­is­la­tor from Culpeper County.

Koch broth­ers-backed Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity in­vested more than $137,000 in the Fre­itas can­di­dacy, pay­ing for tele­phone banks and on­line ad­ver­tis­ing. A po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee aligned with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spent $225,000 on pro-Fre­itas TV com­mer­cials. The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, known for its po­tent voter contact net­work, en­dorsed Fre­itas.

The money and or­ga­ni­za­tion ap­par­ently helped, be­cause Fre­itas surged within 5,000 votes of Ste­wart. That’s also how close Ste­wart came to de­feat­ing Ed Gillespie, the Es­tab­lish­ment fa­vorite, for the 2017 Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­na­tion.

The 2017 squeaker val­i­dated Ste­wart to his base of im­mi­grant bash­ers, neo-Con­fed­er­ates, gun rights ab­so­lutists and just-say-no abor­tion foes, em­bold­en­ing him to im­me­di­ately de­clare for Se­nate. This weak­ened Gillespie by lay­ing bare bit­ter di­vi­sions among Repub­li­cans at a time when they should have come to­gether be­hind his can­di­dacy.

A year on, Ste­wart is the Se­nate nom­i­nee of a Repub­li­can Party fur­ther splin­tered by his in­cen­di­ary style and long odds against Kaine that has the Na­tional Repub­li­can Se­na­to­rial Com­mit­tee and the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee an­nounc­ing they’ll have noth­ing to do with Ste­wart.

For the or­ga­ni­za­tions that fa­vored Fre­itas, some of which are sit­ting out the gen­eral elec­tion rather than deign to sup­port Ste­wart, it wasn’t enough to stop him.

The con­duct of Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­dates fol­low­ing the Ste­wart vic­tory — and the con­cern it con­veyed — sig­naled what was mostly un­spo­ken dur­ing the pri­mary: that Ste­wart would be an al­ba­tross, threat­en­ing Vir­ginia in­cum­bents and scram­bling the larger task of sav­ing the House Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity.

Democrats must flip 23 seats to take back the House.

Vir­ginia could sup­ply three, per­haps four. The sun, moon and stars would have to align for that to hap­pen.

How­ever, the Kaine cam­paign’s mil­lions could help, paired with some 50 field or­ga­niz­ers, 20 of­fices — and more open­ing — as well as two new dig­i­tal tools.

One al­lows the Se­nate nom­i­nee and his House run­ning mates to si­mul­ta­ne­ously or­ga­nize dis­trict-spe­cific events while cap­tur­ing voter data through a sign-up fea­ture. The other, de­signed to per­son­al­ize pol­i­tics, lets sup­port­ers us­ing Google Gmail com­mend to their friends and neigh­bors the Demo­cratic can­di­dates in pre-writ­ten emails.

The lat­ter was oc­ca­sion­ally used by Tom Per­riello in his un­suc­cess­ful chal­lenge to Ralph Northam for the

2017 Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign. It was widely adopted by Demo­crat Doug Jones in his vic­tory in deepred Al­abama for Se­nate last year over Roy Moore, a Repub­li­can ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

The Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, a non­par­ti­san cam­paign hand­i­cap­per, rates Com­stock’s seat as lean Demo­cratic. Brat’s dis­trict is now con­sid­ered a toss-up. Tay­lor’s dis­trict leans Repub­li­can, as does an open seat, an­chored in South­side and reach­ing across Char­lottesville to­ward the north­ern horse coun­try.

There, Den­ver Rig­gle­man is a fill-in for fel­low Repub­li­can Tom Garrett, who stunned his party with a last-minute an­nounce­ment that he is quit­ting af­ter a sin­gle term be­cause he is an al­co­holic. The Demo­cratic nom­i­nee is Les­lie Cockburn, a for­mer broad­cast jour­nal­ist and au­thor.

The Wash­ing­ton Post de­scribes the Rig­gle­man-Cockburn race as com­pet­i­tive.

And that may be, given the pe­cu­liar cir­cum­stances un­der which the seat, which spans some of the most con­ser­va­tive ter­ri­tory in the state, came open.

What is a cer­tain, though, is that be­cause of the haz­ardous down-draft in Vir­ginia at­trib­uted to Don­ald Trump and com­pli­cated by Trump-backed Corey Ste­wart, among Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­dates, it’s ev­ery man — and woman — for them­selves.

JEFF TAY­LOR/THE WINCH­ESTER STAR

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and state Sen. Jen­nifer Wex­ton, a can­di­date for Congress, held a rally in Winch­ester on Thurs­day.

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