Virginians will be heading to the polls Tuesday where they will decide on one of three Republican candidates vying for a chance to challenge incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D) for his seat.
The candidates include Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, state Delegate Nick Freitas and Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson, the only black candidate on the ballot.
Stewart, who narrowly lost his bid for governor in 2017, has been the frontrunner, and has the most name recognition.
But, according to some polls, many voters are still undecided which could lead to a surprise victory by Freitas, a former Green Beret who has gained support from Republican legislators like Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.).
“I think he’s a great candidate — perfect example of someone who’s outspoken on liberty issue[s], Second Amendment,” Paul told The Washington Times.
Has Freitas gained any ground?
Until last week, Freitas. 39, had avoided attacks against Stewart, but he came out swinging hard in a fundraising email that called out his challenger’s past association with the controversial “Unite the Right” rally organizer in Charlottesville, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“If we are to continue our party’s legacy, we must reject Corey Stewart’s dog-whistling of White supremacists, anti-Semites, and racists,” Freitas wrote in the email on Wednesday.
“Corey Stewart has repeatedly made serious lapses in judgment with the people he associates with politically,” the email continued. “This pattern of behavior is especially disqualifying for a candidate seeking higher office.”
“It is well past time we defeat the hate mongers and say this is enough.”
A recent video also surfaced featuring Stewart praising former congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, who has made a number of openly anti-Semitic comments on Twitter.
"A video has recently surfaced of Corey Stewart, the perceived front-runner of the Virginia Republican nomination for Senate, calling known anti-Semite Paul Nehlen one of his 'personal heroes.'"
— Kassy Dillon (@KassyDillon) June 4, 2018
Stewart struck back at Freitas in a statement: “It’s sad to see establishment Republicans using Leftist tactics of CNN — labeling rule-of-law conservatives racists and bigots — to advance the very same open-border, pro-amnesty agenda the left wants here in Virginia.”
Last week, a PAC that supports Paul committed $225,000 in TV ads for Freitas, according to a Federal Election Commission filing. An additional $137,000 in digital ads and phone banking is being spent by Americans for Prosperity to support Freitas.
Freitas supports President Donald Trump on taxes, regulations, and national defense. He wants less government control of individuals lives, but doesn’t believe in a “loyalty oath to a chief executive.”
The Virginia delegate was criticized by Democrats when he gave an impassioned speech on gun rights on the Virginia House of Delegates floor in March.
Who are Stewart’s supporters?
Stewart bills himself as the only true Trump supporter and has gained a loyal following of Trump supporters despite his stunts, which included waving toilet paper at a news conference outside the Legislature to mock “soft” and “flimsy” Republicans who supported Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
“As they showed in 2016, people are looking for a fighter — they want people to stand up and fight,” Stewart said, according to The Times. “They want Republicans who have balls.”
His county’s crackdown on illegal immigration has also garnered a strong following.
Stewart called for the arrest of Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Ann Kincaid after she announced in January that the department would no longer hold illegal immigrant inmates up to 48 hours past their criminal sentence to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement with possible deportations.
What about Jackson?
Jackson, a long shot, said he would fully support either candidate if he doesn’t win, but noted that Stewart needs to clean up some issues.
“I believe Corey has a good heart and wants to do right by people,” he reportedly said.
Jackson has called himself the best candidate to win minority votes in the general election.
“We’ve got to send a message: we operate on the basis of principle, not race,” Jackson said during a debate.
Jackson said he wants to be a “cultural leader” not just a political leader.
No matter who wins the June 12 primary, it will be a tough race against Kaine who had more than $10.5 million in cash-on-hand at the close of the pre-primary reporting period May 23.
A recent poll conducted by Roanoke College showed Kaine leading all three of his potential Republican challengers by at least 10 points.