If speculation is correct, Virginia Republicans just might have an alternative nominee for the 2018 Senate race.
Nick Freitas, a delegate from Culpeper just elected to his second term, is said to be ready to announce his candidacy for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, possibly at the state party’s annual meeting next weekend.
While some (or perhaps most) will marvel at the hubris of a largely unknown legislator with a thin political resume seeking to take on Sen. Tim Kaine (D), there are good reasons for a comparative newcomer to get into the race.
But it won’t be easy. Even should Freitas win the nomination in a fight with Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, and possibly E.W. Jackson, assemble a seasoned team that knows how to run an effective statewide effort, raise the money needed to finance that effort and weather the coming storm facing all Republicans running everywhere in 2018, his odds of defeating Kaine are very slim.
Kaine is 3-0 in Virginia elections — 4-0 if we add the Clinton-Kaine victory in the commonwealth over Trump-Pence in 2016. His victories have always been solid if not overwhelming.
In the Obama reelection year of 2012, Kaine defeated George Allen in the contest to fill former senator Jim Webb’s open Senate seat by nearly 6 percentage points and managed to finish ahead of Obama in the process.
In his bid for governor in 2005 against Jerry Kilgore, Kaine won by nearly 6 percentage points.
His only close contest came in his first bid for statewide office in 2001. Then, running against Jay Katzen, Kaine won by 2 percentage points.
Solid wins, all. But not overwhelming.
To a Republican optimist, these results would indicate an opening for a new face running a strong, well-funded campaign to make 2018 a real contest.
And maybe, if all the stars align, it might even mean a victory.
That won’t happen.
But Republicans who are honest with themselves will admit that the party desperately needs to right itself after its shellacking in this year’s statewide contests.
Even more, it needs to rebuild its bench.
Republicans have burned through their bigger names since 2012, a problem compounded by their insistence on nominating retread candidates for Senate in 2012 (Allen, who lost his 2006 reelection bid to Webb) and Gillespie this year.
The bench is so thin that there is talk of Republicans trying hoping to woo former governor Jim Gilmore into the race against Kaine.
Gilmore might be convinced to do so out of a sense of duty. But it sets the bench-building process back even further.
Nominating Stewart? That would build the bench — for the Democrats by helping them elect two and maybe more House members.
Nominating Jackson? Same result.
Which brings us back to Freitas.
He has a good personal story. He’s an Iraq war veteran with tea party roots. He has a fan base inside the party that’s been promoting him for some time. There’s even a YouTube channel dedicated to telling the “Nick Freitas Story.”
And it’s in those fawning videos that one gets a sense of why a candidate like Freitas could make a solid GOP Senate nominee.
He’s confident. He’s telegenic. He’s new.
He also has the attitude Republicans need heading into a political year that looks especially grim.
In one of those videos, Freitas says, “We don’t fight because we’re guaranteed to win every single time. We fight because it’s the right thing to do.”
Virginia Republicans need that kind of attitude in 2018. It’s the kind of spirit that could go a long way to helping the party wrench itself from its deepening funk. It might even help scrape some of the nativist barnacles off its brand and provide disaffected Republicans a reason to return to the fold.
That’s a lot to ask of a mostly unknown delegate who has never run statewide and faces a dogfight against Stewart for the nomination. But rebuilding the confidence of a shaken party demands taking chances on unknowns — and putting up a fight even when victory looks impossible.