GOP can­di­date for gov­er­nor uti­liz­ing Trump play­book

Ste­wart turns to so­cial me­dia

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Fi­nan­cially out­gunned in the Vir­ginia gov­er­nor’s race GOP pri­mary, Corey Ste­wart is try­ing to blow a hole in the con­ven­tional po­lit­i­cal wis­dom that win­ning comes down to who racks up the big­gest war chest.

The self-de­scribed Trump acolyte has been try­ing to make the most of his cash-strapped sit­u­a­tion by turn­ing to the Trump play­book, har­ness­ing so­cial me­dia and harp­ing on is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion that get the Repub­li­can base go­ing.

On Wed­nes­day, he made the trek across the Po­tomac with a staffer and streamed through Face­book Live an at­tack against Ed Gille­spie, the GOP fron­trun­ner, ac­cus­ing him of be­ing be­holden to large cor­po­ra­tions try­ing to un­der­cut Amer­i­cans with a stream of for­eign work­ers.

“He was the lobbyist on record for Tyson Foods when they smug­gled in thou­sands of il­le­gal aliens, tak­ing Amer­i­can jobs and then, of course, ex­ploit­ing these peo­ple — you know, pay­ing them next to noth­ing when they got here and mak­ing them work in in­hu­mane con­di­tions,” Mr. Ste­wart said into a hand­held cam­era phone. “Not to men­tion the fact

that the big­gest vic­tims here are those who are vic­tims of crimes com­mit­ted by il­le­gal im­mi­grants.”

Mr. Gille­spie’s cam­paign dis­missed the at­tack as part of “a con­stant stream of fab­ri­ca­tion and false­hoods” from Mr. Ste­wart.

Im­mi­gra­tion has long been a thorny is­sue for Repub­li­cans — a po­ten­tially pow­er­ful cud­gel, as then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump proved in last year’s elec­tions, but one that also in­vites charges of racism.

It’s not the only area where Mr. Ste­wart, the chair­man of the Prince Wil­liam County Board of Su­per­vi­sors, is fol­low­ing Mr. Trump’s cam­paign play­book. He’s also try­ing to cre­ate the kind of on­line pres­ence that made Mr. Trump the talk of the cam­paign in 2015, long be­fore the first GOP pri­mary.

“I think that so­cial me­dia has trans­formed so many in­dus­tries, but es­pe­cially pol­i­tics,” Mr. Ste­wart said Wed­nes­day af­ter he launched his Face­book Live at­tack at Mr. Gille­spie. “You don’t need $3 mil­lion to $3.8 mil­lion that Ed has raised in or­der to win a pri­mary for [a] gov­er­nor’s race any­more.”

Mr. Ste­wart, 48, has re­mained loyal to Mr. Trump since get­ting fired as chair­man of Mr. Trump’s Vir­ginia cam­paign over a dustup with the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee. He sig­naled Wed­nes­day he hopes to recre­ate some of the so­cial me­dia magic that helped Mr. Trump win the 2016 elec­tion.

But, un­like Mr. Trump, Mr. Ste­wart has con­sis­tently trailed in the polls and on the fundrais­ing front.

Mr. Gille­spie, who served as a top ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, has raised about $3 mil­lion more than Mr. Ste­wart, ac­cord­ing to the Vir­ginia Pub­lic Ac­cess Project, and leads him by 20 per­cent­age points in a Wash­ing­ton Post-Schar School poll re­leased this month. Also in the GOP race is state Sen. Frank Wag­ner.

Search­ing for ways to make up ground, Mr. Ste­wart has turned in part to first-per­son riffs on so­cial me­dia that have been viewed by tens of thou­sands and fea­ture him, among other things, knock­ing “Es­tab­lish­ment Ed” for not tak­ing a firmer stand against Demo­cratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and against Democrats who want to tear down the state’s Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als.

Mr. Ste­wart isn’t the to­tal po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte Mr. Trump was when en­ter­ing the GOP pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, hav­ing run statewide in a los­ing 2013 bid for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor.

Mr. Gille­spie, mean­while, ran a closer-than-ex­pected bat­tle to un­seat U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Demo­crat, in 2014.

Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Pol­icy and Govern­ment at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity, said Mr. Ste­wart’s strat­egy sug­gests he knows how dif­fi­cult his path to the nom­i­na­tion is.

“He’s try­ing to ac­ti­vate a base that is not ter­ri­bly large us­ing over­heated rhetoric, di­vi­sive is­sues and wrap­ping him­self in the Con­fed­er­ate flag,” Mr. Rozell said. “The lat­est statewide poll has Gille­spie way up over Ste­wart right now. So Ste­wart has to count on most of his base show­ing up and most of Gille­spie’s sup­port­ers sit­ting out the pri­mary. Very, very long shot strat­egy.”

This week’s im­mi­gra­tion at­tack stems from a Wash­ing­ton Post re­port high­light­ing the work Mr. Gille­spie’s firm, Quinn Gille­spie and As­so­ci­ates — which he co-founded with a Demo­crat in 2000 and left in 2007 — did on be­half of Tyson Foods af­ter the chicken pro­cess­ing gi­ant was pros­e­cuted for hir­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Mr. Ste­wart’s Face­book post read: “LIVE! From Quinn-Gille­spie lob­by­ists in DC to dis­cuss the Wash­ing­ton Post’s bomb­shell ar­ti­cle about Ed’s com­plic­ity in Hu­man Traf­fick­ing.”

A jury ac­quit­ted Tyson Foods of the charges in 2003, and Abbi Sigler, a spokes­woman for Mr. Gille­spie, said her boss wasn’t in­volved in the mat­ter any­way.

“Tyson Foods re­tained Quinn Gille­spie in 2001 to pro­vide pub­lic re­la­tions ser­vices deal­ing with charges for which a jury later found the com­pany not guilty,” Ms. Sigler said. “As The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported, Tyson’s made clear the firm was not re­tained to lobby on the is­sue and Ed was not in­volved in the day-today work for them.”

Mr. Gille­spie has promised to stiffen im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment in Vir­ginia, in­clud­ing en­cour­ag­ing state and lo­cal po­lice to sign up to help fed­eral of­fi­cials and crack­ing down on so-called “sanc­tu­ary cities” that try to thwart en­force­ment.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Vir­ginia gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Corey Ste­wart, who lacks the fi­nances of GOP ri­val Ed Gille­spie, is tak­ing his mes­sage to so­cial me­dia to reach vot­ers, a strat­egy he says worked for Pres­i­dent Trump. Mr. Ste­wart worked for Mr. Trump’s cam­paign but was fired.

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