Corey Stewart, a right-wing rabble-rouser who claims he was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” announced his plans Thursday to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in the 2018 midterm elections.
Stewart, an attorney and chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, came unexpectedly close to becoming Virginia’s Republican nominee for governor in a June 13 primary.
After campaigning to protect Virginia’s Confederate monuments and crack down on illegal immigration, the Minnesota-born Stewart lost to Ed Gillespie by just 1.2 percentage points, defying polling that showed him with a double-digit deficit.
Now, Stewart believes his populist rhetoric and professed admiration for President Donald Trump are enough to unseat Kaine, a former governor who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election.
“I’m going to run the most vicious, ruthless campaign to dethrone Tim Kaine from the United States Senate,” Stewart said at a press conference Thursday outside his home in Woodbridge, Virginia. “It’s time that we had a United States senator who is going to support the president, not try to obstruct his way.”
“I’m going to stand by the president of the United States,” Stewart added.
Asked by a reporter what he meant by a “vicious” campaign, Stewart explained that he would not hesitate to attack Kaine.
“I’m going to go after him very, very hard,” he said. “Republicans have been playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules for too long, and the Democrats have been fighting a UFC fight.”
Stewart vowed that if elected, he would govern as a hard-line conservative in the mold of Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah).
Like those senators, who have protested that the Senate bill to repeal Obamacare leaves too much of the law intact, Stewart is disappointed in the present iteration of the Senate’s legislation. He said he would never vote for health care legislation that preserves the 3.8 percent surtax on investment income, as the latest version of the Senate bill does. He also wants to eliminate Obamacare’s “essential health benefit” regulations, which require insurers to cover things like maternity and emergency room care.
At the same time, Stewart suggested he supports the law’s cuts to Medicaid spending, calling the program a “disaster” that is “completely inefficient.”
Stewart implied that he intends to focus his campaign on job creation and rooting out the “economic despair” in rural pockets of Virginia. He offered few details about how he plans to achieve that goal.
“There is a movement toward bringing back, onshoring more and more jobs, and I think that’s something we need to encourage,” he said.
It was clear that Stewart is most at ease, however, speaking in bombastic terms about his plans to take the fight to Democrats standing in Trump’s way.
“I’m a fighter. I love to be in the ring,” he said. “I can’t stand ― these last four weeks have been excruciating for me. Being outside of the ring is painful.”
In a testament to his unorthodox speaking style, Stewart interrupted himself at the start of the press conference to introduce his wife, Maria, and inform reporters that it was her birthday.
And he characterized the controversy around the ties of Trump associates to the Russian government, including Donald Trump Jr.’s apparent willingness to collude with the Kremlin to elect Trump, as “bollocks.”
Virtually any Republican candidate would face an uphill battle against Kaine. A February Quinnipiac University poll showed Kaine leading two more conventional Republicans rumored to be considering a run ― conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina ― by at least 20 percentage points.
But Stewart seems to be a veritable gift to Democrats in a state that went for Clinton by more than 5 percentage points in 2016 when Kaine was her running mate. Stewart’s affinity for the president is liable to be especially toxic in Virginia, where Trump had a 36 percent approval rating in a Washington Post poll in May.
In a statement about Stewart’s candidacy, Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker previewed the approach Democrats likely plan to take against Stewart.
“Corey Stewart is even more extreme than Donald Trump. Corey has completely ignored the needs of families in Prince William County to instead spend his time name calling, bashing immigrants and re-litigating the Civil War,” Swecker said. “When he rarely turns his attention to the county he was elected to represent, he calls his colleagues ‘slimeballs’ and pushes an anti-immigrant, backwards agenda that has left working families behind.”
“The last thing Virginians need in the Senate is a rubber stamp for President Trump,” Swecker added.
The Kaine campaign was quick to pounce on Stewart’s inflammatory remarks at the press conference.
“Right out of the gate, Corey Stewart is more focused on name-calling than improving Virginians’ lives,” Kaine campaign adviser Jenny Nadicksbernd said in a statement. “Senator Kaine will continue working with both Democrats and Republicans to build economic opportunity through better skills, jobs, and wages and protect health care for all Virginians.”
Stewart has built his career on a tough approach to unauthorized immigration. He was elected chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in 2007 on an anti-immigrant platform, and has since used his authority to cooperate with federal authorities on deportations to the fullest extent possible.
As a senator, Stewart would fight to force every locality to check the immigration status of incarcerated residents, he said Thursday.
Last year, Stewart proved too independent for even the Trump presidential campaign, which fired him as Virginia co-chair in October after he protested at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee.
Stewart is not a carbon copy of Trump, however. He delivers his grandiose pronouncements in a calm voice with traces of his native Minnesotan accent. And since the Republican gubernatorial primary in June, Stewart has ingratiated himself with some members of Prince William County’s Muslim community by helping approve the construction of a mosque in Gainesville that had encountered local resistance.
Stewart also declined to say whether he would again champion the preservation of Virginia’s Confederate heritage, as he did so provocatively during his bid for governor. He noted on Thursday that the status of the monuments is largely a state-level issue.
And he argued that his enthusiasm for Trump would ultimately redound to his benefit, declaring that the polling was “wrong” about Trump’s approval rating in Virginia. He welcomed Trump or Trump family members to campaign for him.
“Absolutely I would not have done this if I had not done as well in the primary,” Stewart said. “Clearly I’ve got a base. Clearly there’s an appetite for a Republican fighter.”