Corey Stewart, the controversial chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, has won the Virginia GOP Senate primary.
Stewart, who was long the front-runner in the race, was projected by The Associated Press to win the primary Tuesday night. He finished less than 2 percentage points ahead of state Del. Nick Freitas, the pick of more moderate Republicans in the state.
Stewart previously fell just short in the state’s gubernatorial primary last year but has repeatedly won elected office in Prince William County.
His victory Tuesday signals a hardening of the GOP primary electorate that many Republicans say would hurt the party in November.
The newly-minted Virginia Senate GOP nominee has argued that the state needs a candidate with a sharper edge in order to defeat incumbent Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Senate panel passes amendment to bar using troops against protesters Defense bill turns into proxy battle over Floyd protests MORE (D-Va.).
Stewart told The Hill earlier this year that he’s a “ruthless, aggressive campaigner” and that it’s “a mistake to avoid controversial issues.”
Kaine’s communications director, Ian Sams, blasted Stewart in a statement released shortly after the primary was called.
“A cruder imitation of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE who stokes white supremacy and brags about being ‘ruthless and vicious,’ Corey Stewart would be an embarrassment for Virginia in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
“In sharp contrast, Tim Kaine is fighting to make Virginia and our country work for all, where good jobs, health care and education are available to everyone and all people are treated with dignity and respect. That’s the choice voters face in November and we will keep working hard in every corner of Virginia to win voters’ support.”
The Virginia Republican has long courted controversy.
He based much of his 2017 gubernatorial campaign around preserving Confederate statues, called eventual GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie a “cuckservative” and was forced to distance himself from an anti-Semitic and white nationalist candidate running for Congress in Wisconsin after revelations he had praised him last year.
Stewart’s top competition in his Senate primary had been Freitas, whose state Assembly floor speech about gun rights went viral in conservative circles earlier this year.
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Many more establishment and moderate Republicans saw Freitas as their best chance to keep Stewart from winning the primary, since no top-tier challengers deemed it worth running against Kaine, who is well-liked in the state.
Now with Stewart as the nominee, dueling theories of turnout will be tested in a state that’s home to four competitive House races in November.
Many Republicans fear that controversy surrounding Stewart might dissuade Republicans from turning out to vote. And Bill Bolling, the state’s former GOP lieutenant governor, panned Stewart in a Tuesday night tweet calling his nomination a departure from the “Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served.”
But Stewart has bucked that criticism, arguing his hard-charging campaign will be able to animate the party’s base.