If Virginia Republican Corey A. Stewart loses his bid in two weeks to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), he will face a strong Republican challenger next year in Prince William County, where he chairs the board of supervisors.
Martin E. Nohe, a veteran supervisor who also chairs the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, said Tuesday he will run for Stewart’s seat regardless of the outcome of the Senate race.
Nohe, who was first elected in 2003, said Stewart’s larger political ambitions in recent years have been a distraction for Virginia’s second-most populous jurisdiction.
Stewart — who ran for governor last year and for lieutenant governor in 2013 — has often missed board meetings to campaign, making it harder to resolve some local issues, said Nohe (R-Coles), who is vice chair of the county board. Stewart is serving his fourth term on the board, which expires next year.
Moreover, Stewart, an ardent supporter of President Trump, has been a divisive figure in the increasingly moderate county with his hard line position on illegal immigration and calls to preserve Confederate monuments in Virginia that have attracted support from white nationalists, Nohe said.
“Frankly, Prince William County needs a board chairman who is focused on being board chairman,” said Nohe, who plans to make the region’s traffic congestion central to his campaign.
“In order for Prince William County to be at its best, we need a chairman who is bringing positive attention to our community rather than bringing attention to the politics of our community,” he said.
Stewart, who trails Kaine by nearly 20 points in most polls, said Tuesday that he hasn’t decided whether he would run for reelection as board chair should he lose the Senate race.
He said he doesn’t fault Nohe for launching a campaign now but took issue with Nohe’s characterization that he hasn’t been focused on Prince William County issues.
“I’ve been doing this job for a long time and I’ve got great staff,” said Stewart, who was first elected as chair in 2007 in an election fueled by local resentments over illegal immigration. “I’ve been spending all day today working on county stuff.”
Any elections in Prince William next fall will take place in a county that has become more moderate in recent years. The county favored Hillary Clinton by 21 points in 2016 and Gov. Ralph Northam by 23 points last year.
Prince William voters also sent five freshman Democrats to the General Assembly last year, part of a blue wave of victories that leveled the balance of power in Richmond.
Ann Wheeler, a Democrat who also plans to run for Stewart’s seat, said a political shift is underway that could loosen the Republican Party’s grip on the county board.
“You can see the county is trending blue,” said Wheeler, a former energy consultant who plans to include public school funding as a campaign issue.
Supervisor Pete Candland (R-Gainesville) said Nohe, a moderate Republican, would have a good shot at winning the chairmanship if he secures the party’s nomination.
But, Candland said, Nohe would have a hard time beating Stewart should the two wind up going head to head because there are still enough conservative voters in the county who favor Stewart.
“It would be a very interesting race,” Candland said. “A lot of politicians in Prince William County, and residents, are wondering what Corey will do.”