- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

President Trump wasn’t on the ballot in Virginia on Tuesday as voters headed to the polls to make their picks in the commonwealth’s congressional primary elections — but he might as well have been.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart on Tuesday rode a pro-Trump message to narrowly win the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Virginia over state Delegate Nick Freitas. Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson finished third.

In Virginia’s closely watched 10th Congressional District race, Democrats nominated state Sen. Jennifer Wexton to carry their anti-Trump message in the fall against Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, who dispatched a pro-Trump primary challenger of her own.

But it was Mr. Stewart, who nearly captured the Republican nomination for governor last year against Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, who most epitomized the pro-Trump wing of the party.

Mr. Stewart has promised to run a vicious campaign against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, and attracted headlines with Trump-like antics, such as waving toilet paper in a press conference outside the Virginia state Capitol to criticize fellow Republicans as soft and weak.

But during the campaign’s closing stretch, Mr. Stewart had also faced questions about his past ties to Paul Nehlen, a past challenger to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who has come under fire for anti-Semitic and racially tinged postings online, as well as Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of August’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Mr. Freitas said he doesn’t think Mr. Stewart is a racist but that he has shown “horrible judgment” and that Democrats would repeatedly try to paint the party as racist if Mr. Stewart emerged as the nominee.

Mr. Stewart, meanwhile, tried to go on offense, saying he doesn’t want anything to do with anybody who has racist views but that he is not going to apologize for every “lunatic” out there.

Democrats, meanwhile, said irrespective of the candidates in the races, they want their votes to send a strong anti-Trump message to the White House, while Republicans said they want their ballots to show the president he still retains broad support within the party and across the country.

Democrats are hoping the race in Virginia’s 10th District, which cuts from the District of Columbia suburbs to the West Virginia border, is one of the leading indicators of a blue wave in November.

Debra Fife, a human resources professional from Sterling, said she used to be a Republican and considered herself a moderate with a rightward lean on fiscal issues but that she hopes voters deliver a clear anti-Trump message at the polls.

“As long as he’s in office, I won’t vote for a Republican,” said Ms. Fife, 63. “Everything now is a contest. There’s no collaboration. There’s no compromise. It’s either you win or you lose, and right now I don’t want him to win.”

In the district’s Democratic primary, Ms. Fife said she supported Alison Friedman, who worked in President Obama’s State Department and advocates against human trafficking, because she liked her overall message on school safety and her pledge to get outside of practicing politics as usual.

Ms. Friedman appeared on track to finish second to Ms. Wexton in the six-way contest to take on Ms. Comstock, who defeated retired Air Force pilot Shak Hill in a Republican primary.

Mr. Stewart, Mr. Freitas and Mr. Jackson were competing for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in the fall.

But it was Mr. Trump who was at the top of many voters’ minds Tuesday.

Dave Wilson, 72, of McLean, said he hopes this year’s elections send a message to the president that the country isn’t behind him.

“This whole presidency is like some TV show, and that’s what he is. He’s a TV actor,” Mr. Wilson said. “This whole Trump thing is just an aberration. What can I say?”

In the 10th District Democratic primary, Mr. Wilson said he was supporting Lindsey Davis Stover, who worked in Mr. Obama’s Department of Veterans Affairs, because of her work on veterans issues.

Jhangir Teymourian, a 70-year-old retiree from Sterling, said he voted for Ms. Friedman because he was more familiar with her than the other five candidates, but that he plans to vote Democratic in the fall no matter what, because of his antipathy to Mr. Trump.

“I hate this administration. The guy — he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing,” he said. “He’s a joke.

“This message is going to show Republican[s],” he said. “See what’s going on.”

Republican voters disagreed — and in some cases said they want their votes to deliver a strong pro-Trump message even if it ends up hurting the party overall.

“If you’re not with my president, I’m not with you,” said Johanna Ashworth, 35, from Haymarket.

Ms. Ashworth said she is supporting Mr. Stewart, who is painting himself as more pro-Trump than his Republican opponents, as well as Mr. Hill.

In frustration, she held up an image on her phone of Ms. Comstock’s statement disowning Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign over his past lewd comments about women.

“Why is it that us conservatives always, always are like, ‘We’ll go ahead and we’ll eat it’? We’ll eat it and we’ll vote these people in to keep a Republican in office,” she said.

“Well, that has changed,” she said. “I’d much rather see a Democrat in office than I’d prefer to see her, if it comes down to that, because something has got to change.”

But other voters who support Ms. Comstock said the way to support Mr. Trump is to give the congresswoman another term in office, rather than allow Democrats to win the seat back for the first time since the 1970s.

“I wish the Republicans would all make peace, stick together, and I think we’d all be better off if they would,” said Elizabeth Blackshaw, a 76-year-old retiree from McLean who supported Mr. Stewart. “We’ve got enough Democrats calling us nasty names and stuff like that. We don’t need the Republicans doing it to each other.”

She also said people who had some reservations about Mr. Trump are beginning to see that he wasn’t such a bad choice, pointing to this week’s summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as one positive sign.

“So we’ll just hope that the Republicans prevail,” she said. “If we could get some more Republicans in the Senate, I think that would help a lot.”

Frank Rouse of Haymarket acknowledged Ms. Comstock’s mixed history with Mr. Trump, but said she’s been with the president on important issues such as the Republican tax cuts.

“I want a winner,” said Mr. Rouse, 72. “I don’t want the Democrats to win, and if I pick the other guy, he’s not going to win.”

Paul Pelletier, a former federal prosecutor who was also running for the Democratic nomination in the 10th District, said he thinks Democratic primary voters are similarly pragmatic and that people want accountability from both the president and their members of Congress.

He said he thinks Democrats are more motivated than Republicans, but that a “blue wave” might not be enough in a district like the 10th.

“We need a purple tsunami,” Mr. Pelletier said in between greeting voters coming into Langley High School in McLean. “The primary voters and the Democrats that I talk with are more concerned about governing and getting rid of Comstock. And they understand that in order to do that, we have to win over independent [and] moderate voters.”

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