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Republicans pick Confederacy defender Corey Stewart to face Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Democrats picked nominees for four targeted Republican-held U.S. House seats in the June 12 primary election, including a high-stakes race in the Washington, D.C. suburbs that will pit GOP U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock against Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton.
Stewart’s win was greeted with dismay by GOP leaders in Virginia, who will now have a candidate at the top of their ticket who has defended preservation of Confederate symbols and once made a public appearance alongside one of the organizers of last summer’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.
Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, took 45 percent to edge out State Delegate Nick Freitas from Culpeper at 43 percent and E.W. Jackson, an African-American Baptist pastor and social conservative activist from Chesapeake at 12 percent.
In U.S. House contests, Democrats are making a play for four Republican-held seats in Virginia in their quest to gain the 24 seats they need nationally to capture control.
Targets include the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads; the 5th District, which includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia; the 7th District, which takes in Richmond’s eastern suburbs and areas to the north; and the 10th District, which stretches from the western Washington suburbs toward West Virginia.
The most money and attention have been lavished on the 10th District, where Comstock is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points in 2016.
The six Democrats running raised $6.5 million in the primary; Comstock has raised $3.3 million.
Wexton, a state lawmaker from Leesburg who was the choice of Governor Ralph Northam and other party leaders, took 42 percent of the primary vote, followed by Alison Friedman at 23 percent and Lindsey Davis Stover at 16 percent.
Meanwhile, Comstock easily batted down a Republican primary challenge from Shak Hill, who attacked her as insufficiently conservative. She took 61 percent to Hill’s 39 percent.
In the 2nd District, Democrats picked Elaine Luria, a businesswoman and former Navy officer, to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor in a district Trump carried by just 3 points in 2016. Luria took 62 percent to 38 percent for Karen Mallard, a public school teacher.
In the GOP primary, Taylor defeated Mary Jones, a former county supervisor in James City County, with 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Jones.
In the 7th District, Democrat Abigail Spanberger a retired CIA operative from Glen Allen, won the right to take on U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in November, winning 72 percent to defeat Daniel Ward, who took 23 percent.
Spanberger has raised more than $900,000 for the race, nearly catching Brat, who is best known nationally for knocking off former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary. Trump carried the district by 7 points.
The one Democrat-targeted seat where there wasn’t any suspense on primary night was the 5th District, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn won the nomination at a Democratic convention and Republican party leaders picked Denver Riggleman to run when the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, pulled out in May after disclosing his alcoholism.
Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, is a former network television producer and correspondent who has raised $715,000 for the race. Riggleman, who owns a distillery near Charlottesville and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2017, will start the race in a significant financial hole.
In the Senate race, polls have shown Kaine with a substantial lead over Stewart, in a state where Republicans haven’t won a Senate election in 10 years. Kaine, a former Richmond mayor and two-term governor seeking his second term, is not considered a top-tier GOP target this year.
Stewart was Trump’s Virginia campaign co-chair in 2016 until late in the campaign, when he was fired after leading a protest in front of Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.
The incident happened shortly after the Access Hollywood videotape surfaced of Trump bragging about groping women. Stewart, upset about reports that GOP leaders might distance themselves from Trump, organized the protest, saying he wanted to start a “rebellion against GOP establishment pukes who betrayed Trump.”
Stewart nearly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2017 after a campaign in which the Minnesota native championed the preservation of Confederate monuments. In announcing his Senate bid, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.
During the primary, Freitas had criticized Stewart for making an appearance alongside one of the organizers of last-year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, calling on voters to reject Stewart’s “dog-whistling of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists.”
Stewart responded by calling Freitas an “establishment Republican” using “leftist tactics of CNN.”
After Stewart’s win, Virginia’s former Republican lieutenant governor unleashed a blistering tweet: “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.”
Garrett discloses he’s an alcoholic, amid controversy over alleged misuse of his congressional staff
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — Freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia has announced he not seek re-election this fall because he is an alcoholic, while also insisting that allegations that he and his wife misused his congressional staff to perform personal errands are untrue.
In an emotional statement videotaped outside the State Capitol on Memorial Day, Garrett called the allegations of misuse of staff, first made by Politico, “a series of half truths and whole lies.”
But he also said anyone “who has known me for any length of time and has any integrity knows two things — I am a good man, and I am an alcoholic.”
“Sometimes winning means knowing where your priorities should be. My devotion to the ideas and belief in America has not wavered, but my commitment to be the best husband, father and friend means addressing the only truth I’ve been heretofore unwilling to tell,” he said.
Garrett, 46, a former prosecutor, won election to the 5th District seat in 2016, after serving five years in the Virginia Senate. The sprawling district takes in much of central Virginia from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to the North Carolina border.
Garrett’s decision to depart the race comes amid concerns by Republican leaders about weak fundraising for the coming battle with Cockburn, a former network television producer and correspondent.
As of April, Federal Election Commission reports show that he had raised only $433,000 and had just $133,000 in cash; Cockburn had raised $715,000, with $271,000 remaining.
Citing four unidentified former staffers, Politico reported on May 25 that Garrett and his wife, Flanna, used staff members to run personal errands, including taking care of their dog, which would be a violation of House ethics rules.
In his withdrawal statement, Garrett refuted the allegations, which he said are “driven more by Republicans than Democrats.”
“These attacks aren’t true, and I can prove that,” he said.
The Politico story came two days after reports began surfacing that Garrett was considering dropping his re-election bid after his chief of staff resigned. The next day, he held a news conference in which he insisted that he would run again but giving a performance described in press accounts as “rambling” and “bizarre.”
With the filing deadline for Virginia’s June 12 primary closed, the 5th District Republican Committee will now pick a replacement for Garrett. Cockburn is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Garrett won the 5th District race by 16 points in 2016; President Donald Trump carried it by 11 points.