Editor’s note: This is one in a series of pieces on Virginia’s June 12 primaries. WTOP interviewed all candidates in contested local races. See all of WTOP’s primary coverage on our Elections and Politics page.
WASHINGTON — Virginia’s June 12 Republican primary for U.S. Senate features three candidates with contrasting styles, each hoping to take on Sen. Tim Kaine from the right in November’s general election.
Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart and Del. Nick Freitas, of Culpeper, see themselves as the front-runners for the nomination, but Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson is hoping for an upset.
“I have a record in the General Assembly of fighting for property rights, free market economics, and just basically empowering people to have more control over their lives, and I think that when we advocate for those things and we do so boldly and unapologetically, people are able to prosper,” Freitas said.
While Freitas supports President Donald Trump’s actions, if not always his style, Stewart and Jackson each make total support of the president the centerpiece of their campaigns.
“I’ll be the biggest supporter of President Trump in the United States Senate,” Stewart said. “We need those votes to build the wall, to enforce our immigration laws, to rebuild the military and to rebuild the economy.”
“He’s doing all the right things, and so I am going to stand with the president,” Jackson said.
Hillary Clinton won Virginia in 2016, and Democrats have won all recent statewide races. Still, each of the candidates are expected to stick to their message if chosen as the nominee.
“The job of a representative is to not simply take a poll and legislate appropriately. The job of a representative … is to be perfectly honest with the people that they would represent about what they believe and why they believe it,” Freitas said. “Check my voting record and check the things that I’ve talked about. I think people will see an amazing amount of consistency.”
Jackson lost the 2013 lieutenant governor’s race to Democrat Ralph Northam, now Virginia’s governor, by a wider margin than the rest of the Republican ticket after some voters had concerns about whether his views may have been too extreme. Last year, Stewart narrowly missed upsetting former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie for the Republican nomination for governor on a platform that embraced Confederate monuments and Trump, among other things. Gillespie lost to Northam in November.
Virginia is at a crossroads, Jackson said, with the country in a “time of crisis.”
“If we don’t give people with traditional values a sense of hope and inspiration and encouragement, I think they will begin to sit out the elections and just allow Virginia to go the way of California or Massachusetts and become a deep blue state,” Jackson said. “I believe we are certainly purplish on the surface, but I think we are deep red underneath, and it just takes a candidate to excite our voters, excite our base, and bring them to the surface, bring them to the polls, and I believe I’m the only candidate in the race who really does that.”
He cites his positions, but also his difficult upbringing as a possible advantage over Freitas and Stewart.
“They’re both good people. I don’t believe either one of them has any chance whatsoever at beating Tim Kaine, because neither one of them has any chance of winning a sufficient number of black votes to even make it competitive,” Jackson said.
What makes you different?
Freitas, who was a Green Beret, believes being a veteran of the military as well as the legislature gives him important experience that Stewart and Jackson do not have that will help him turn his positions into action on Capitol Hill.
“I think ultimately that this is a question between two competing philosophies. It’s the philosophy of government control versus the philosophy of individual liberty,” Freitas said.
“Not just arguing for things like tax cuts and regulatory reform and education reform, but actually understanding why it is that we argue for all of these things — and, again, that goes back to the core message of individual liberty,” he said.
Freitas wants to limit the federal government generally.
“The federal government … is trying to do far too much right now, which means it’s not doing any of it very well,” he said. “I want the federal government to focus on things like national defense, which obviously has a lot of implications for Virginia, both from a defense policy but also from an economic standpoint.”
Corey Stewart, who continually brought answers in an interview back to support for Trump and to his own identity as a “fighter,” said his past election victories in Prince William County races would give him an edge in November.
“The biggest thing is this: I’ve been able to win in Northern Virginia,” Stewart said.
“So, many of these votes for President Trump’s agenda come down to one vote. If I’m in the United States Senate, I will vote for the full repeal of Obamacare; I will vote to construct a wall on the Mexican border; I will vote to support the president’s economic policies and to rebuild our military,” Stewart said.
Jackson highlights his support for the president and a focus on immigration as among his top issues.
“I just absolutely believe in building not only a physical wall, but a legal wall,” Jackson said. “And the legal wall I would build is that if you come to our country illegally or you stay here illegally, you will never be a citizen.”
Like Freitas, Jackson also highlights a “school choice” plan, which for him would include a tax credit for private school tuition.
“I have a plan for dealing with the problems of the inner city based on private sector initiatives. And something’s got to be done to deal with the drugs, the violence, the family dysfunction, the rampant poverty, the terrible educational quality that’s available,” Jackson said.
He called it “criminal” that Virginia has several dozen schools the state rates as non-accredited.
“I’m a different kind of Republican, not just because of the color of my skin but because of my unique background. I grew up in foster care; I grew up in poverty. My wife grew up in the projects. In other words, we’re not just people who’ve been helicoptered in by some Republican establishment forces to be the faces of the Republican Party,” Jackson said.
Stewart slams tolls, and said Prince William County has added roadway improvements during his tenure on the Board of Supervisors.
“We need the federal government to stand up and do what’s necessary to improve I-95, I-66 without tolls,” Stewart said.
Freitas sees transportation as a top priority in Northern Virginia along with jobs and health care issues, but believes it takes a broader approach to reach more realistic solutions.
“A lot of times, building roads is the most expensive thing we can do. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it, but we should also look for other alternatives like allowing people to be able to work remotely as an alternative.”
“We also, I think, need to spread out some of the various federal agencies and departments that we have in Northern Virginia and disperse that out over other areas so we’re not talking about concentration all in one spot, which leads to incredible traffic congestion,” Freitas said.
Freitas also wants more flexibility for states and local governments to spend federal transportation dollars as they choose if they can cut costs.
‘Vicious and ruthless campaign’
The primary has featured significant attacks flying back and forth between the Stewart and Freitas camps, including some by Stewart campaign aides that appeared to attack Freitas’s Portuguese ethnicity.
“This is politics; this is rough and tumble — you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches, you’ve got to have a thick skin,” Stewart said.
“His whole statement that he’s going to run a vicious and ruthless campaign, I certainly can’t think of anyone in American political history that I truly admire that I would describe as being vicious or ruthless,” Freitas hit back.
“I understand the whole divide-and-conquer strategy,” Freitas added, “but I think Corey is engaged in more of a divide-and-lose strategy, so we’re just not going to do that. Corey can run his race; I’m going to run mine, and we’ll see which the people of the commonwealth choose on June 12.”
He has attacked Stewart for several things, including rising Prince William County property tax bills over the last decade.
“I don’t consider any of those things very conservative-oriented,” Freitas said.
Stewart disputed the claims, and cited recent votes against county budget plans.
Jackson, who called racial divides in America a “cancer” that he blamed on “the left,” said he hoped to be a candidate who could push for unity.
“The left has labeled Republicans a bunch of racists … I’m addressing the issue that the left has created,” Jackson said.
“I’m not an African-American; I’m an American,” he said. “We’ve got to begin to think of ourselves as Americans first and as Virginians first if we’re going to have any kind of future for our children and grandchildren.”