Five Takeaways From Virginia’s Primary

Photo Credit: Still image from a Facebook live video of Virginia GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart as he stands with Confederate flag supporters at a March 2017 rally in Roanoke, Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – In 2017, Virginia voters shocked the Republican political establishment by flipping a dozens seats in the state legislature and coming close to handing control of the body to Democrats. That election set in motion the “blue wave” that has since been felt in every corner of the country.

But on Tuesday, Virginians once again proved they won’t be pigeon-holed as primary voters in the state’s affluent and highly educated Washington suburbs – a group typical seen as favoring mainstream candidates — delivered a victory for Corey Stewart, a flame-throwing Trumper with a passion for battle flags and other symbols of the Confederacy.

These then are the biggest takeaways from a primary day that in some way defied expectations:

1.) Confederate monument supporter and Trump loyalist Corey Stewart takes GOP Senate nomination.

As already noted, Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart beat out state Delegate Nick Freitas in what turned into a brutal match between two Trump supporters. While both candidates expressed hard-line conservative values, Freitas said in debates he wouldn’t sign a loyalty oath to Trump, which cost him the race according to at least one voter interviewed by Courthouse News.

Stewart, a Minnesota native, had allied himself with alt-right leader Jason Kessler early on in the contest as he sought support from Confederate-sympathizers going into the 2017 gubernatorial primary (which he lost).

Kessler went on to lead last summer’s Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally which saw white supremacists clash with local counter-protesters. The event ended with the death of Charlottesville native Heather Heyer.

This link between Stewart, Kessler and other alt-right leaders, along with his promise to run a “vicious” campaign against incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine, already has the National Republican Senatorial Committee backing away from the party’s newly minted Senate nominee.

2.) State GOP leaders are already turning on Stewart.

It didn’t take long for legacy Virginia GOP members to condemn Stewart’s win. Former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling was among the first to come out swinging. Shortly after Stewart’s win, he tweeted out that he was “extremely disappointed” with the outcome and suggested “this is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served.”

Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said the state and even national party’s attempts to stymie Stewart, possibly by withholding campaign funds, probably won’t work. Farnsworth envisions Stewart doing what he does best: attracting attention  controversial statements and ads and get the local media to cover his campaign for free.

“If Republicans think they’re going to silence Corey Stewart by not giving money to his campaign, they are bound to be disappointed,” Farnsworth said.

3.) Stewart could have a big impact congressional races.

Stewart’s win will put him on every ballot cast in the state, which means it will inspire both supporters and adversaries to come to the polls. This means GOP incumbents in what are expected to be three highly contested congressional districts, will have to decide whether to embrace or avoid the controversial candidate.

Longtime Republican state Delegate Christopher Peace, whose district includes both rural and suburb voters around Richmond, took to Twitter to suggest congressional candidates that align themselves with Stewart “will lose.”

“Our incumbent congressmen and women need to define their own races,” Peace tweeted. “Our Grand Old Party needs to get back to its roots: Lincoln, TR, Reagan, Bush.”

Still, Stewart told Courthouse News Virginia’s GOP hasn’t won a statewide election in nearly a decade because previous candidates were “flaccid” and the electorate wants a strong leader willing to fight for them and to support President Trump.

4.) Trump offers after-hours support to Stewart.

While the President stayed out of the Virginia primaries, he took to Twitter to congratulate and promote Stewart early Wednesday morning.

“Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof,” Trump tweeted. “Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”

Trump, according to recent polling from Roanoke University, continues to be deeply unpopular in Virginia. And Farnsworth thinks the president’s support for Stewart, who promised to follow Trump “even when controversial,” will not fare well come November.

“Trump helps a candidate win a primary nomination, but it might not help that much in a general election,” he said, noting that primary races don’t often reflect the community they represent. Farnsworth also noted that while a tweet from Trump might inspire a rabid base, the broader GOP constituency will be less enthused, if not turned off entirely, by it.

“It might be a poisoned chalice,” Farnsworth said.

5.) The “Blue Wave” is as much about women as it is about Democrats.

In a state that helped coin the term “the blue wave,” five out of six democratic primaries held on Tuesday ended with women being victorious.

Farnsworth says Trump’s comments on women, like the infamous Access Hollywood “grab her by the p*ssy” comment, continue to inspire women to run against him and win.

“President Trump has done more to intensify the gender gap in American politics than just about any politician in the last generation,” Farnsworth said.

This was on display in the Virginia’s Seventh congressional district where former CIA agent Abigail Spanberger defeated former Obama State Department official Dan Ward.

Spanberger’s actively courted women in Richmond suburbs who dislike the president; Ward meanwhile told the Washington Post the day before the election that anyone who questioned his support for women was being “unpatriotic.” In the end, Spanberger received 70 percent of the vote in her race.

Virginians will next go to the polls on November 6th.

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