Va. Del. Freitas’ speech drew attention — what about votes?

WASHINGTON — Virginia Republican Del. Nick Freitas, one of the contenders to unseat U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, has gotten more than 10 million views for his speech on the floor earlier this month. One expert says that helped his chances of getting the Republican nomination, but when it comes to the general election, he’s not so sure.

On March 2, Freitas, R-Culpeper, rose to address recent criticisms of the Republican Party for its long-standing resistance to gun control, particularly after the Florida school shooting. He said that “the welfare state contributed significantly to dismantling the family,” leading to the broken homes that he claimed many mass shooters come from, and cited “the abortion industry” as one of “various cultural changes [from] the Sixties” that contributed to the problem.

He also claimed that a recently defeated ban on bump stocks failed because no Republicans believe that gun-control efforts would stop there, and said of the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, resistance to women’s suffrage, segregation and Jim Crow, “That wasn’t our party. That was the Democrat[ic] party.”

The speech got Freitas national-TV recognition and support from conservative personalities such as Lou Dobbs. And Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said that it improved his political prospects.

Calling Freitas an “obscure legislator” who won election narrowly, Rozell said, “In one speech he propelled himself into substantially higher name recognition.”

Until that speech, Rozell said, Freitas was the choice of moderate Republicans in the field to unseat Kaine — “an alternative to Corey Stewart and E.W. Jackson, two fiery populists who appeal to the far-right wing of the Republican Party.”

Now Freitas is in the same category, Rozell said.

“Ready to dust it up in the rhetoric … in order to get attention for himself, which he’s done fantastically.”

That helps his chance of getting the nomination, Rozell said, adding Stewart “doesn’t have a real chance” after his previous defeats, and Jackson was “defeated handily” in his last couple of runs.

‘Where the votes are’

Rozell added that he didn’t think there was a great deal of difference between Freitas and Stewart on policy, though he considered Freitas a bit more libertarian.

But the abortion comments, particularly, were directed toward religious and social conservatives, “who have a substantial impact on who get the nomination” in the Republican Party, Rozell said. In a low-turnout primary, “It’s the hard-core conservatives who are going to show up, and show up in big numbers. That’s where the votes are.”

Even so, Rozell said, any run against Kaine is “a real long shot,” Rozell said. The incumbent is “fairly popular,” with all the advantages of the office — name recognition, fundraising and a “fairly credible” record. Not to mention what Rozell called “the blue trending of Virginia.” No Republican has won a statewide race since 2009.

“I think many Republicans actually wish that some other big-name Republican … would step forward,” Rozell said, adding gossip has centered around former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and others, “but that just has not materialized.”

WTOP’s Kyle Cooper contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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