In a campaign video, de la Peña, 65, describes emigrating from Mexico as a child, graduating from the University of Iowa through the school’s ROTC program, serving in the Army for 30 years and being appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs after he helped President Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign.
“They always act surprised — how could someone like me support him?” de la Peña says in the video about the president, referring to “liberal elites” who he says cannot understand how a Mexican immigrant like him can be a Republican.
The campaign video also shows scenes from last year’s racial justice protests, including one image of a protester hurling a smoking tear gas canister at police and another of a toppled statue, with de la Peña saying that “the American Dream is under assault.”
The ad does not mention last week’s events at the Capitol, where Trump supporters stormed the building in a riot that led to five deaths, including that of a Capitol Police officer.
But de la Peña, who lives in Fairfax County, condemned the violence in an interview.
“We cannot have rule of law if we allow anybody to break the law,” he said. “Anybody who was involved in illegal activities, they need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
De la Peña said that Trump should not be blamed for inciting the riot.
“I feel the president said to have peaceful protests,” he said. “I heard him say that repeatedly.”
Among other things, de la Peña says on his campaign website that he supports making English the state’s official language, ending coronavirus shutdown orders and ending the ability for localities to override the state’s concealed-carry gun laws.
Princess Blanding, the sister of a Black man fatally shot by police in 2018 during a mental health crisis, declared her run for governor under the newly formed Liberation Party.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Sergio de la Peña’s role at the Department of Defense. De la Peña served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs.