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Opinion Nick Freitas should leave his MAGA ways behind

RICHMOND, VA - FEBRUARY 20: Virginia state Del. Nick Freitas(R-30) at work in the statehouse, on February, 20, 2019 in Richmond, VA. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Congratulations, state Del. Nicholas J. Freitas (R-Culpeper), on winning the GOP nomination to take on incumbent 7th District Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D). You’ve had a few days to reflect and recover. Are you serious — really serious — about winning in November?

This isn’t entirely about your inexplicable habit of forgetting to file essential campaign paperwork, a habit that has earned you the sobriquet of “scofflaw.” It’s not even about how the state elections board found itself having to fight a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lawsuit over its decision to allow you to appear on the November ballot.

Those things look bad — as if you think rules and accountability don’t apply to you.

But they aren’t disqualifying. As you showed in your 2019 reelection bid for the House of Delegates, when self-inflicted paperwork problems forced you to run an intensive and expensive write-in campaign, victory (with megadonor Richard Uihlein’s help) is possible.

You say you’re ready and eager to fight for the 7th District. It’s guaranteed to be a tough race and, if the 2018 figures are any guide, very expensive.

But here’s the thing, Freitas: You are going to need an edge.

As one of your endorsers, former congressman Dave Brat (R), discovered to his chagrin in 2018, Spanberger is tough. Much tougher, much smarter and with more potential assets at her command than the average Republican political operative understands.

That’s why, even in a Republican-friendly district, most independent congressional race analysts give Spanberger a slight edge in November.

How can that possibly be? You know the answer: It’s President Trump.

The president remains the single most powerful get-out-the-vote tool in the Democratic campaign kit. Trump failed to win Virginia in the 2016 presidential race, but he won the 7th. Brat ran 6 percentage points ahead of Trump in that election.

Republican fortunes have declined there ever since, culminating in Brat’s defeat two years ago.

Let’s be clear, Freitas: You’re no Dave Brat, and that’s a good thing if you’re serious about winning.

Brat quickly forgot the lessons voters offered in the 2014 GOP primary that launched him into Congress and sent then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Wall Street. You, Freitas, seem to have those lessons close at hand.

Or at least some of them. The local GOP apparatus did you no favors with its walk-up convention. As former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling noted on Facebook, “It took three hours to count the first round of the vote at the 7th district Republican convention, while delegates waited outside in near 100 degree temperatures.”

No one has control over the weather, to say nothing of wild cards such as the novel coronavirus, which forced a nearly three-month delay in the 7th District convention.

But it would have helped you, Freitas, and the party as a whole, had it chosen a primary election instead. As Bolling wrote, primary elections “are much easier to administer, much quicker in outcome, and involve MANY more people.”

“If we are interested in growing the Republican Party,” Bolling said, “nominations should be conducted via primary elections.”

Still, if you’re really serious about winning, then here’s some quick advice: Ditch the MAGA hat — that’s a deal killer in the vote-rich suburban Richmond parts of the district — and embrace your self-styled libertarian leanings.

That’s going to require a lot more than just backing gun rights and fiscal restraint and talking about “liberty.”

It means getting serious about criminal justice reform. You can begin by following your endorser Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) lead on demilitarizing the police.

And while you’re at it, remind people of your support for marijuana decriminalization and your work on behalf of civil asset forfeiture reform. Those issues show you aren’t entirely clad in the populist/authoritarian cloth swaddling too many Republicans.

It’s hardly an exhaustive list, but the idea should be clear: If you’re serious about winning, lean into the libertarian and leave the MAGA behind.

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