Thomas Oh knew he faced an uphill battle in his bid this November to unseat Rep. Don Beyer (D) in a Northern Virginia district that hasn’t sent a Republican to Congress in 28 years.
But being called a Nazi hasn’t helped.
Last week, Oh publicly distanced himself from Corey A. Stewart, a Senate candidate at the top of the GOP ticket who has associated with white supremacists, after several voters voiced disgust because Oh’s campaign signs were near Stewart’s signs at public events.
“We were at a farmers market in the McLean area and a woman did not let her kids take candy from our stand, saying, ‘Don’t take candy from a Nazi,’ and I was like: What the heck?” said Oh, 26, whose parents are Korean immigrants.
Oh, who disagrees with Stewart’s hard line on immigration and his desire to preserve Confederate monuments, has asked volunteers to keep his campaign materials at a distance from Stewart’s signs and palm cards, a move first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Most of the 10 other Republicans running for Congress in Virginia also have tried to distance themselves from Stewart, who models himself after President Trump in a state where the president is unpopular and during an election cycle in which a Democratic wave is predicted.
Several Republican candidates have opted against campaigning with Stewart, telling The Washington Post that they prefer to “run our own campaign.”
“I’m the candidate in the 5th Congressional District and I’m going to do my own thing,” said Denver Riggleman, a Charlottesville-area businessman who is running against journalist Leslie Cockburn (D) to take over the seat being vacated by Rep. Thomas Garrett (R), who is retiring.
Searching for an analogy to describe the effect that Stewart has had on his campaign, Oh turned to the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s like when people say all Muslims are terrorists — which we know is not true — because Osama bin Laden was a terrorist,” he said. “I’m not going against Corey by any means at all. I’m just saying our campaigns are different.”
Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors who is challenging Sen. Tim Kaine (D), takes pride in being called a brash, politically incorrect Republican Party outsider.
But the label has cost him.
Heavy Republican donors and state party leaders have largely abandoned his campaign, leaving Stewart with about $143,000 in available money compared with Kaine’s $6 million, according to the most recent federal campaign disclosures.
Riggleman said he thinks Stewart has good intentions but made “some bad decisions” in his Senate campaign, including connections to white supremacists such as Paul Nehlen and Jason Kessler that Stewart has been forced to repeatedly disavow.
Stewart also faced a backlash from local leaders in the city of Danville last month for comparing that community to a dystopian nightmare after a textile mill and some tobacco companies left the area a decade ago.
In addition, Kaine supporters derided his campaign earlier this month for splicing a picture of a young Kaine in Honduras, where he worked as a Jesuit missionary in the 1980s, with right-wing contra soldiers in Nicaragua in an attempt to make it appear as though Kaine supports left-wing extremists.
As the Nov. 6 elections approach, other Republican candidates don’t seem eager to appear alongside Stewart.
Rep. Rob Wittman, whose eastern district includes portions of Prince William and Fauquier counties, recently told conservative radio host John Fredericks that his schedule is too full to include any joint appearances with Stewart while he works to fend off a challenge from Democrat Vangie Williams.
Rep. Scott W. Taylor, who is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Elaine Luria in his purple Virginia Beach-area district, bristled at the suggestion that Stewart would hurt his campaign, telling the Virginian-Pilot last month “I don’t give a s--- about Corey Stewart.”
In Northern Virginia, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R), who is battling for reelection against state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D), has been pointedly silent about whether she supports Stewart’s campaign.
Earlier this week, Comstock name-dropped Kaine in a photo she tweeted of herself and other local Republicans at an India Independence Day celebration in Fairfax County.
Stewart was not invited, said Puneet Ahluwalia, a Comstock supporter who helped organize the event. A spokesman for Comstock did not respond to messages for comment.
Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said it’s smart for other Republican candidates to steer clear of Stewart at this point, particularly in close contests where they have to appeal to moderates to win.
In those situations, where voters may be inclined to split their ballot between Kaine and the local Republican, “any congressional candidate who is going to embrace Corey Stewart is essentially telling those voters to stay away,” Kidd said. “So, it makes perfect sense for these Republicans to say: ‘We’re going to try to run our own campaign, we’re going to try to carve out our own message.’ ”
Stewart said he plans to join some of his fellow Republicans at campaign events but would not name any.
One congressional candidate, Del. Ben Cline in the solidly Republican 6th Congressional District where Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) is stepping down, has campaigned with Stewart.
A spokesman for Cline said he didn’t want to discuss Stewart, adding that the Senate candidate’s poll numbers in the district are lower than Cline’s. “It’s a problematic situation,” the spokesman said. “There’s a real potential for there to be a pretty negative impact for people downballot.”
Stewart said he understands if some candidates need to distance themselves, arguing that he would still benefit if those candidates drive Republicans to the polls.
“If they want to call me names, or if they want to slap me around, I don’t care,” he said. “I just want them to win, because if they get their voters out, those voters more than likely are going to vote for me.”
Ryan McAdams, a Republican evangelical minister who is taking on Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D) in a district southeast of Richmond that independent analysts say is solidly Democratic, has turned to other Republicans for help.
McAdams’s campaign has arranged for Wittman, Taylor and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) to join him at future events and is waiting to hear whether Vice President Pence will also lend a hand.
About Stewart, McAdams said he’s open to joint events. But then he demurred.
“Our schedule, to be very honest, is very filled up,” he said, adding that he has nothing against Stewart. “So, I don’t even know if there’s a lot of opportunity for us to do anything major.”