Why It's Been Years Since A Va. Republican Won Statewide Office

Jun 13, 2018
Originally published on June 13, 2018 11:01 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Virginia Republicans have chosen their Senate nominee. Corey Stewart won yesterday's Republican primary. He's a politician from Prince William County, Va. His website says he stands with President Trump, will crack down on illegal immigration and adds that he will, quote, "protect Virginia's history." Stewart defended a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va - the same statue supported by white supremacist protesters. He called a past political opponent a cuckservative (ph), a word embraced by white nationalists. He lost a Republican primary bid in running for governor last year but now has the party label to challenge Democrat Tim Kaine. Former Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis has been following all this. He's on the line. Mr. Davis, welcome back to the program.

TOM DAVIS: Well, great to be here. Thank you.

INSKEEP: What are Virginia Republicans saying, do you think?

DAVIS: Well, I think that they're standing with President Trump. I think we're seeing this across the country - with the defeat of Mark Sanford last night in South Carolina. The Republican party base has basically migrated from the country club to the country. It's become a more rural party. However, in Corey Stewart's case, he carried some of the urban areas because he represents Prince William County, where he's the top elected official.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's suburban Washington, D.C. OK.

DAVIS: And he carried Fairfax County and Loudoun County, as well, because there's a familiarity with Corey. He's been through several elections in that area. He's prominent in the media. And regardless of how these counties behave in general elections, the party base there is still pretty conservative. A lot of them are moderate Republicans who just quit participating in Republican primaries. And I think that combined to give Corey a narrow lead statewide.

INSKEEP: Not to put too fine a point on it, but there's conservative. There's also southern, southern-leaning, appreciating Southern history. There's racist. What is the right label to put on Corey Stewart?

DAVIS: I think southern-leaning. He's from Minnesota. I think it's - people, you know, act like he was born here. He's from Minnesota. He's a very pragmatic politician. The whole monuments issue is an issue that tears jurisdictions apart up here. Even in Arlington and Fairfax County, there have been - there's a lot of support for not changing names versus changing the names. Arlington just voted to change the name of Washington-Lee High School. In Fairfax, a school board member's being recalled for voting to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School. There's a lot of respect for history here - a lot of newcomers, in particularly African-American voters, that are offended by it. But these are not 70-30 issues. They're very close issues - even in these high-end suburban areas. And you put this into the mix of who are Republican primary voters. It probably turns out to be a net plus for Corey Stewart.

INSKEEP: Well, now he has become the Republican nominee in a state where Republicans not very long ago at all totally dominated. But it's been a while now since Republicans have won a statewide election. Does he have a real chance - a candidate with this point of view have a real chance to knock off Tim Kaine?

DAVIS: Well, I think it's doubtful that any Republican has much of a chance this year - notwithstanding Corey Stewart or whatever. And the simple reason is Republicans haven't won a statewide race since 2009. President Trump lost the state by 5 points. And now you have a midterm election that, in many ways, is serving as kind of a bellwether of where President Trump stands. And I don't know that he's improved much in Virginia. And Tim Kaine, who's won three or four statewide races and has $10 million in the bank, is the Democratic candidate. When you put that together, there are probably at least a dozen better opportunities for Republicans to pick up Senate Democratic seats - so not likely to attract a lot of outside money.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is Virginia just becoming a blue state?

DAVIS: No, Virginia is really two one-party states. Part of it is New Jersey. And part of it more resembles a traditional Southern state. But the growing part of the state is the New Jersey part.

INSKEEP: Mr. Davis, thanks very much always a pleasure talking with you.

DAVIS: My pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's former Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.