Trump looms large over elections; Stewart will take on Kaine for GOP
Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart rode a pro-Trump message to a narrow win in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Virginia on Tuesday and earn a fall showdown with Democratic incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine.
In other closely watched primaries in Virginia and several other states, proand anti-Trump forces also battled it out for positioning ahead of the general election campaign season for the November midterms.
But at least in Virginia, Mr. Stewart was the candidate who arguably most epitomized the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party.
Mr. Stewart has promised to run a “vicious” campaign against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, and attracted headlines with Trump-like antics, such as waving toilet paper in a press conference outside the Virginia state Capitol to criticize fellow Republicans as soft and weak.
Mr. Stewart has also become associated with his county’s strict policies against illegal immigration — another issue near and dear to the president.
He served as Mr. Trump’s 2016 Virginia campaign chairman but was fired late in the campaign for participating in a protest outside of the Republican National Committee building in Washington, in a move he says demonstrated his loyalty to Mr. Trump.
Some of his antics started to grate on elected Republicans in Virginia — many of whom threw their support to state Delegate Nick Freitas, who also won outside support from pro-free market groups including Americans for Prosperity and national conservatives such as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.
With 100 percent of precincts
reporting, Mr. Stewart won 45 percent of the vote to Mr. Freitas’s 43 percent, with Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson finishing third with 12 percent.
The Republican Party of Virginia congratulated Mr. Stewart in a statement saying that the party “plans to finish strong and retire Tim Kaine once and for all.”
“It was a hard fought primary, and any one of the three Republican candidates would be miles better than Tim Kaine,” the statement said.
Mr. Freitas said Tuesday night he plans to support the GOP ticket, but had raised questions in the campaign’s closing stretch about Mr. Stewart’s past ties to Paul Nehlen, a past challenger to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who has come under fire for anti-Semitic and racially tinged postings online, as well as Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of August’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
Mr. Freitas said he doesn’t think Mr. Stewart is a racist but that he has shown “horrible judgment” and that Democrats would repeatedly try to paint the party as racist if Mr. Stewart emerged as the nominee.
Mr. Stewart, meanwhile, tried to go on offense, saying he doesn’t want anything to do with anybody who has racist views but that he is not going to apologize for every “lunatic” out there.
Mr. Kaine’s campaign quickly “welcomed” Mr. Stewart into the general election contest, where the incumbent is the favorite to win a second term in the Senate.
“A cruder imitation of Donald Trump who stokes white supremacy and brags about being ‘ruthless and vicious,’ Corey Stewart would be an embarrassment for Virginia in the U.S. Senate, where he would eliminate health care for millions of Americans and slash public education funding,” Kaine campaign spokesman Ian Sams said.
Former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, lamented his party’s choice for their nominee, saying he’s “extremely disappointed” someone like Mr. Stewart could win.
“This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight,” Mr. Bolling said on Twitter.
Elsewhere in Virginia, Democrats nominated State Sen. Jennifer Wexton to carry their anti-Trump message in the fall against Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, who dispatched a pro-Trump primary challenger of her own in the closely watched 10th Congressional District race, which cuts from the District of Columbia suburbs to the West Virginia border.
Democrats said irrespective of the candidates in the races, they want their votes to send a strong anti-Trump message to the White House, while Republicans said they want their ballots to show the president he still retains broad support within the party and across the country.
Debra Fife, a human resources professional from Sterling, said she used to be a Republican and considered herself a moderate with a rightward lean on fiscal issues but that she hopes voters deliver a clear anti-Trump message at the polls.
“As long as he’s in office, I won’t vote for a Republican,” said Ms. Fife, 63. “Everything now is a contest. There’s no collaboration. There’s no compromise. It’s either you win or you lose, and right now I don’t want him to win.”
Republicans, meanwhile, said they want to be there to support the president, and that re-electing GOP members like Ms. Comstock is the way to do that.
“I wish the Republicans would all make peace, stick together, and I think we’d all be better off if they would,” said Elizabeth Blackshaw, a 76-year-old retiree from McLean who supported Mr. Stewart. “We’ve got enough Democrats calling us nasty names and stuff like that. We don’t need the Republicans doing it to each other.”
She also said people who had some reservations about Mr. Trump are beginning to see that he wasn’t such a bad choice, pointing to this week’s summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as one positive sign.
“So we’ll just hope that the Republicans prevail,” she said. “If we could get some more Republicans in the Senate, I think that would help a lot.”
Mr. Trump himself weighed in to support several GOP candidates via Twitter this week, including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for governor.
On Tuesday, hours before the polls closed in South Carolina, Mr. Trump also endorsed Katie Arrington, GOP Rep Mark Sanford’s primary opponent, calling Mr. Sanford “MIA” and “nothing but trouble.”
But in the Palmetto State, Mr. McMaster was forced into a runoff for the Republican nomination, despite having been an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s campaign. He finished first in Tuesday’s primary but didn’t get a 50 percent majority and must now square off with Greenville businessman John Warren, who finished second, in a June 26 runoff. Longtime state Rep. James Smith easily won the Democratic nomination.
Primaries also were held in Maine, Nevada and North Dakota, but there were few suspenseful or high-profile races. And in Maine, there were few results Tuesday evening because of that state’s use of an “instant runoff” system that requires voters to rank their choices and makes calculation extremely complicated.
In North Dakota, Republican state Sen. Kelly Armstrong won the primary for her state’s U.S. House seat, easily defeating former Marine Tiffany Abentroth and former North Dakota State football player Paul Schaffner.
She is seeking to replace Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is challenging for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and easily won his primary.