Corey A. Stewart, the Virginia Republican seeking to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine in November, tried Wednesday to paint the Democrat as a violent left-wing radical by tweeting a photo of Kaine as a young Jesuit missionary in Honduras posing with armed guerrillas.
The problem: The image is a fake.
Stewart’s campaign spliced an image of Kaine onto a stock picture of a gun-toting group of right-wing contra commandos in Nicaragua in 1987 just after they routed a leftist Sandinista force during that country’s civil war.
The tweet prompted a mixture of outrage and laughter from Kaine supporters, with one poster remarking “Clearly photoshopped you numb skull” and another writing “This isn’t even a left-wing group.”
Kaine spokesman Ian Sams called Stewart “a chronic, serial liar who will say or do anything just to get attention. He thinks Virginians and all of us are stupid.”
Sams said the photo of Kaine that was used by Stewart was taken during a trip to Mayan ruins in Honduras, which wasn’t experiencing civil war at the time. “Nicaragua is not Honduras. #Geography,” Sams tweeted.
Stewart, chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, acknowledged the picture was altered, but offered a somewhat confusing defense.
“Of course it was photoshopped,” he said. “It was meant to prove a point: that Tim Kaine was a radical leftist back in the ’80s and is a radical leftist today.”
The fact that the soldiers in the original 1987 photo available on Wikimedia were not radical leftists is irrelevant, Stewart said, seeking to turn the tables on Kaine.
“I think it’s hilarious that his only defense to this is: He wasn’t associated with the radical right-wing guys, the contra guys,” Stewart said, arguing that the implication is that Kaine was then involved with the radical left. “He’s been a radical his entire life.”
Kaine first went to Honduras in 1974 as a sophomore at his Jesuit high school in Kansas City, where he grew up in a Catholic family. He was delivering donations to a Jesuit mission in the town of El Progreso. Later, Kaine took nine months off from his studies at Harvard Law School to return to the mission in El Progreso, where he taught carpentry and welding to vocational students — skills he had learned from working in his father’s metal shop. He speaks Spanish.
Stewart’s use of the fake photo is part of an effort by his campaign to link Kaine with the far-left antifa, or anti-fascist, movement, based largely on the fact that the senator’s son, Linwood Michael “Woody” Kaine, was among six counterprotesters arrested outside a 2017 rally for President Trump in St. Paul, Minn., after smoke bombs and fireworks were set off inside the state capitol building.
Woody Kaine was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay $236 in fees and fines for resisting arrest.
Stewart, who is running far behind Kaine in recent polls and has $143,000 in available funds, compared to Kaine’s $6 million, has promised a “vicious” and “ruthless” campaign against Kaine.
In recent weeks, he has been seeking traction on the antifa claims.
He has argued that Kaine incited violence during a 2017 TV interview when the senator called on Democrats to “fight in Congress, fight in the streets, fight online, fight in the ballot box” against unjust Trump administration policies.
On Thursday, Stewart’s campaign released a digital ad that again distorts the truth.
The ad combines footage of a burning police car and black-clad activists beating someone with heavily edited video of Kaine’s comments to “Face the Nation” that last year’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville helped fuel “energetic activism” among Democrats.
Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, said such tactics “speak to a deep desperation.”
“The best way to pursue a voter is with legitimate evidence,” Farnsworth said. “If that’s not working, you’ve got a problem as a candidate.”