Atop the ticket, Kaine extends coattails to fellow Democrats
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.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, a candidate for Congress, held a rally in Winchester on Thursday.