A Senate race between Hillary Clinton’s running mate and a candidate characterized as the Donald Trump of Virginia is likely to garner massive national attention, even if it isn’t competitive—and for now, polls indicate it isn’t.
President Trump’s approval rating took its toll on Republicans in Virginia’s 2017 state elections, while Clinton has drawn little positive attention since her 2016 loss in the presidential race. Nevertheless, both will be paramount in this contest.
“If Hillary Clinton wants to come to Virginia, of course we would welcome her,” Ian Sams, the campaign spokesman for Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told Fox News. “Remember, she did win Virginia in 2016 by five-and-a-half points.”
The top Republicans vying to challenge Kaine seem ready for Hillary themselves.
Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is known for battling illegal immigration and defending Confederate statues.
“We’re not just going to tie him to her run for president, but to the things she has said since November 2016,” Stewart told Fox News, referencing the recent Clinton comment on married women’s inability to think for themselves if they didn’t vote for her.
“The Clinton campaign outspent the Trump campaign 7-1 in Virginia,” Stewart said. “Trump pulled his resources from Virginia to focus on more competitive states. It was probably the right call, but even after all that, Clinton-Kaine only won by 5 points.”
Trump’s campaign fired Stewart a month before election day for joining a protest in front of Republican National Committee headquarters.
Stewart has name recognition after nearly winning the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2017.
That could be changing after state Del. Nick Freitas delivered a viral speech on the Virginia House floor regarding the Second Amendment and Democratic rhetoric. Freitas said he’s gotten an overwhelming increase in volunteers, social media followers and donors since the speech. Republican legislative leaders in Virginia, as well as U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, endorsed Freitas.
After a March 17 debate in Richmond between Stewart and Freitas—the only two so far to gain enough signatures for ballot access before the March 29 deadline—Freitas won a non-scientific straw poll of 217 tea party activist by 65 percent to 35 percent.
Freitas similarly said Kaine’s presence on a ticket with Clinton should be “a big issue.”
“Hillary Clinton has done her level best to alienate as many Americans as possible by saying they are evil, cruel and bigoted human beings if they didn’t vote for her,” Freitas told Fox News. “Sen. Kaine ran alongside her and I am tired of that divisiveness.”
Freitas, a veteran Green Beret and Iraq war veteran, could unite Trump voters and Chamber of Commerce voters, said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“Freitas is the one to watch. He is drawing Republican support to his campaign with the viral video appeals to conservatives, while he’s also appealing to Republican insiders,” Farnsworth told Fox News.
The Kaine campaign contends the senator has bridged partisan divide on issues such as immigration and veterans.
“His record of working together to get things done will be a focus of this campaign, regardless of who the Republicans nominate,” his spokesman Sams said.
Kaine once referred to the Russia probe as a “treason investigation.”
“If I were Tim Kaine, I wouldn’t run as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, but as a successful former governor and a U.S. senator."
The June 12 primary could be wide open. The most recent scientific poll, released by Christopher Newport University in early March—before the Freitas speech—found Stewart with 16 percent support against just 6 percent for Freitas and 7 percent for E.W. Jackson, a conservative black pastor who was the 2013 GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. The poll found that 66 percent were still undecided, while 5 percent backed other candidates. Stewart, Jackson and Freitas all lose by a dozen points to Kaine in a hypothetical matchup.
“If I were Tim Kaine, I wouldn’t run as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, but as a successful former governor and a U.S. senator,” Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia told Fox News. “There are few worse things he could do than bring Hillary Clinton to the state to campaign for him. It wouldn’t gain any Democratic support but it would energize the Republican base.”
The Washington Post reported last December on an “anybody-but-Stewart” sentiment among some state and national Republicans.
“These so-called strategists that say I can’t win have never won in Virginia,” Stewart said, later adding, “I’m not going to be more controversial than the president himself.”
The region of commonwealth where Republicans consistently get hammered is the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia. That’s a region where Stewart has repeatedly won, elected to the board of supervisors for Prince William County—the state’s second most populous county—in 2002, and becoming its chairman in 2006.
For his part, Freitas notes that he won in his district by 68 percent last year, despite the statewide wave election that saw Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam win by 9 points and massive down ticket gains for Democrats in the state legislature.
Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for the Daily Signal.