Stewart, the at-large chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, announces his challenge to Sen. Time Kaine (D) just one month after losing the GOP gubernatorial primary. During that race, Stewart shocked the state’s political establishment by forcing current-GOP nominee Ed Gillespie to a photo finish. He is channeling his campaign’s surprising performance into a shot at the US Senate. He is the first official Republican to enter the fray.
To understand how Stewart will run this race, we need to look no further than his last race.
Underfunded and understaffed, Corey Stewart had to rely on bombastic rhetoric for media exposure. This strategy should sound very familiar to you. The insurgent Republican took cues right out of Donald Trump’s campaign playbook. Having served as the Virginia chairman of Trump’s campaign, Stewart has gone on to emulate the president’s style in many ways.
Most political pundits expected Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and counselor to George W. Bush, to win the GOP gubernatorial primary with ease. Gillespie came with a strong establishment network and an impressive fundraising apparatus. However, taking note of what happened during the 2016 election, Stewart intentionally ran a provocative campaign to get people’s attention.
He vehemently supported the preservation of Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag. He spoke in strong terms about illegal immigrants pouring into the state. Instead of “Lyin’ Ted” or “Crooked Hillary,” Stewart dubbed his GOP opponent “Establishment Ed.” To think of the Republican from Prince William County as a mini-Trump may be an understatement – Stewart proved to be too much even for the Trump campaign. He was fired from his position as Virginia chairman after protesting in front of the Republican National Committee. He later blamed “establishment pukes” at the RNC for being let go.
While still ultimately losing, the craziness paid off huge dividends. In a race where he was expected to lose by wide margins, Stewart ended Election Day 1.2 points behind Gillespie. The constant media attention resulted in a strong showing in Virginia’s rural counties – the same areas where the president performed well.
One month later, Stewart is already gearing up for another campaign. And this go around, he promises to be even tougher.
“There are things that I held back on with Gillespie because he was another Republican,” Stewart said in an interview following his announcement. “But there are no holds barred here. This could be for control of the United States Senate.”
The provocative Republican made it clear he is no fan of Kaine.
“I’m going to run, as I always do, a very vicious, ruthless campaign against Tim Kaine, and I’m going to be able to knock him off,” he stated. “This blind hatred that he has for President Trump has made him neglect the issues that most Virginians care about, namely bringing back jobs, reforming health care. All Tim Kaine talks about is Russia” (the Virginia senator has gone farther than most other Democrats by dropping the treason line when speaking of Donald Trump Jr.).
I have no doubt Stewart will do well in the GOP Senate primary. He now carries strong name recognition and an already-hot campaign operation. The type of conservative red meat he has to offer works wonders for Republican primary voters.
However, such a strategy does not always translate smoothly into a general election, especially in Virginia. A swing state that appears to be trending blue, Old Dominion hasn’t voted for a Republican in a statewide election since 2009. Obama won the state twice, as did Hillary last year. President Trump’s approval rating currently sits at a meek 36 percent. Could a mini-Trump really take home the gold here?
A huge factor also is Tim Kaine himself. He is an incumbent senator and former governor. His placement as Hillary Clinton’s running mate last year gave him a national fundraising network he will continue to enjoy. Ousting him would be no easy task.
The odds are certainly stacked against Corey Stewart. But if the 2016 presidential election taught us one thing: anything is possible. All we know for sure is that Tim Kaine will be given a goofy nickname sometime very soon.