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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

February 6, 2018

With Blue Wave Looming, Few Republicans Vie for Party’s Senate Nomination

Midterm / Elections / State

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The landscape for the 2018 Senate election in Virginia changed dramatically after the results of the 2017 gubernatorial election. What some pundits expected to be a close election between Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie ended in a landslide, powered by motivated Democratic Party base eager to cast a referendum on the Trump Administration. Suddenly, Senator Kaine looked a lot more secure, and as a result, some big-name Republicans who were said to be considering a run decided against it, including former Republican presidential nomination candidate Carly Fiorina and former Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The current balance of power within the Senate is 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats. On the surface, it appears like an easy win for Democrats, if they can keep their seats and then gain just two to win the majority, but the map is tilted heavily in the Republicans favor.  In total, there are 26 Democratic seats up for reelection, as compared to just eight Republican ones. Moreover, ten of the Democratic seats are in states that President Trump carried in 2016, five of which he won by double digits – Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia.

During this midterm election, Democrats are hoping to recover in the Midwest where potentially competitive seats could provide some pick-up opportunities for the minority party. As reported by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, when looking at elections during the Trump era, Democrats have performed 10.2 points better in the Midwest than Clinton in the two-party vote. Additionally, they’ve performed 2.8 points better in the Northeast, 1.5 points better in the South, and 1.8 points worse out West. These findings could prove fortuitous for Democrats as some of their most competitive seats reside in the Midwest.

Along with Carly Fiorina and Eric Cantor, Barbara Comstock from Virginia’s 10th district also decided against making a bid for the Senate seat. Although Comstock lacks the statewide name recognition that both Fiorina and Cantor have, many believed she would be a strong contender for the nomination as she is a skilled politician whose service in the moderate 10thdistrict has left her suitably positioned to appeal to Virginia’s general electorate.

The field of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination includes Corey Stewart, E.W. Jackson, Nick Freitas, and Ivan Raiklin. Although early in the process, it is assumed that Stewart is the frontrunner because he lost the party’s nomination in last year’s gubernatorial election to Ed Gillespie by less than 1%Prior to his gubernatorial candidacy, Stewart unsuccessfully ran as the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2013. He has also worked on the Prince William Board of County supervisors since 2003 and has served as the Board’s chairman since 2007.

Much of the Republican criticism surrounding a Stewart candidacy relates to his staunchly conservative issue positions and support of President Trump. In 2015, Stewart was hired as the Virginia chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign. Then in 2016 he was appointed to co-Chair the Republican Party of Virginia but was later removed from the position as a result of his participation in an unsanctioned protest against the Republican National Committee. Many Virginia Republicans worry that Stewart will struggle in a statewide election in a state that has been gradually moving from a pure swing state to a lean-blue state.

The same issues apply to E.W. Jackson, a minister in Chesapeake, VA. Jackson made his first run for public office in 2012 for the Republican ticket for U.S. Senate. After his unsuccessful Senate run, Jackson ran as the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 2013. He won the Republican nomination but lost to the Democratic nominee Ralph Northam in the general election. Jackson has a reputation for making controversial comments, such as when he suggested that people who wish to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns are possessed by demons and that gay people “are very sick people psychologically and mentally and emotionally.

Both Stewart and Jackson head into the Republican primary with a decisive name recognition advantage given that both have run statewide campaigns before and in Jackson’s case, previous primary victories. Ostensibly, Stewart will also be able to draw on support from President Trump, who has made overtures about campaigning on behalf of Republicans supportive of the President.

Other individuals who have declared their candidacy for the GOP nomination include Nick Freitas, a sitting member in the Virginia House of Delegates, and Ivan Raiklin, a U.S. veteran. Although Nick Freitas is relatively unknown in statewide Republican politics, as a current Delegate he may have an advantage over Raiklin who has not held elected office.

FEC data shows that Stewart has a significant fundraising advantage reporting nearly $200,000 last quarter compared to just $45,000 for Raiklin. Freitas and Jackson have yet their fundraising totals. However, with Senator Kaine reporting a $13 million dollar war chest, it is clear that whoever the Republican nominee is, they will most likely have a significant fundraising disadvantage going into the general election.

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