Virginia Republican Corey Stewart is accusing GOP leaders of favoring a rival for the nomination to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), despite the party’s claim of neutrality in the June 12 primary.
Stewart, the bombastic chairman of the Prince William Board of Supervisors, said party leaders secretly back Nick Freitas, a two-term state lawmaker from the Piedmont Valley — a charge the state GOP denied.
“He’s a stooge for the establishment,” Stewart said during a 10-minute-long news conference outside the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Thursday afternoon. “They’re trying to use him to keep my name off the [general election] ballot.”
In addition to Freitas, Stewart is also competing with E.W. Jackson, a Chesapeake minister. All three men are Trump admirers.
But Stewart has portrayed himself as an anti-establishment candidate and the only person who can turn out Trump voters in November.
“You’ve got the Republican establishment essentially colluding with the Democratic establishment to keep Trump supporters off the ballot in November,” Stewart said, noting a Washington Post story from December that described the NRSC’s efforts to find an alternative candidate to Stewart, who launched his campaign last July.
The NRSC did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
Virginia GOP Chairman John Whitbeck said the party treats all primary candidates the same. “To quote President Trump, ‘There is no collusion. Total witch hunt’,” he said.
Stewart’s recent line of attack comes two days after Senate GOP hopeful Ivan Raiklin filed a lawsuit disputing the party’s finding that he did not collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. He also said Whitbeck encouraged Raiklin to support Freitas.
Whitbeck called the claim “fake news.”
“Because of the pending lawsuit we can’t go into details at this point,” Whitbeck said, “however the quickest way to get attention is to attack your own party. This is a tactic many disgruntled Republicans use to get media attention.”
Raiklin said Thursday he didn’t think the party was stacking the deck in favor of Freitas.
“In my eight months of doing this as a political newcomer,” Raiklin said, “I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I don’t see that.”
Freitas said he enjoys more support from Virginia Republicans than Stewart because he is opposed to tax hikes. He noted the Prince William Board of Supervisors, which Stewart chairs, approved average tax increase of 4.5 percent in 2014.
“It’s no surprise or conspiracy that Virginia Republican voters want a candidate who has not raised taxes on their constituents,” Freitas said in a statement. “Corey is exploiting Ivan Raiklin for his own political expedience, much like he did during the presidential race.”
Stewart took a similar position in his unsuccessful campaign for the GOP nomination for governor against Ed Gillespie last year and during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he protested oustide the Republican National Committee headquarters and warned the national party against abandoning Trump. Hours later, Stewart was booted as chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign.
Jackson said he does not believe the state GOP is giving preferential treatment to any of the primary candidates.
“However,” Jackson said, “anyone can see a lot of the politicians are lining up behind Nick. I’m not worried about that. I think a lot of people are tired of politicians, of being told how to vote... All of that is precisely what has the average voter incensed.”
Freitas has been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former governor Robert F. McDonnell and Morton Blackwell, one of two of Virginia’s representatives on the Republican National Committee, as well as many of his colleagues in the legislature.
He made a controversial speech in defense of the Second Amendment on the floor of the General Assembly weeks after the Parkland school shooting, raising his profile somewhat and helping him surpass Stewart and Jackson in fundraising by the end of March with $251,694 cash on hand.
The war chest is a tiny fraction of the $16 million Kaine has amassed in his campaign for a second term.