Corey Stewart wins primary in Virginia and promises a “vicious campaign”
Will the GOP’s reliance on divisiveness and xenophobia continue to backfire in general election races?
Yesterday’s electoral results confirmed some key dynamics of the 2018 midterm races:
- As Corey Stewart’s win in Virginia’s GOP Senate primary makes clear, it’s Trump’s party now and the Republican midterm will center on the Trump playbook of divisive and ugly fear-mongering regarding immigrants.
- Stewart’s reliance on the ugly politics of fear may work in a GOP primary, but in race after race since 2016 the strategy of immigrant-bashing has not worked, in some cases backfired in general election contests.
- The cynical use of xenophobia by Republican candidates doesn’t work beyond the hardcore Trump supporter, because most Americans want leaders who unite us rather than divide us.
The following is a statement from America’s Voice Political Director Matt Hildreth:
Corey Stewart’s victory in Virginia shows, once again, that the 2018 elections are a moment of truth for America. For the next five months, the Republican Party, led by Donald Trump and aided by candidates like Corey Stewart, will try everything they can to divide us – based on what someone looks like, where they come from, and how much money they have – for their own political gain.
But as we’ve seen in special elections across the country over the last year, the majority of Americans are rallying behind leaders who reflect the very best of America – candidates who know that our strength comes from our ability to work together and fight for freedom and opportunity for everyone, no exceptions. We’ve made the country a more fair and prosperous place in the past and we have the power to do it again in November.
Below we explore each of the above points.
Yesterday, neo-confederate Corey Stewart, who has a long, sordid anti-immigrant record, won the GOP Senate primary in Virginia. At America’s Voice, we’ve followed Stewart’s career for over a decade. (For a deeper dive from America’s Voice perspective, see our blog post on Stewart here.) He’s now on a national stage, pushing the same ugly messages as the leader of the GOP, Donald Trump. It’s no surprise that Trump already endorsed Stewart this morning.
In 2017, Stewart set the agenda for the gubernatorial race during the GOP primary season, setting Ed Gillespie on an ugly path of anti-immigrant and racist ads that ended up backfiring and led to a much-larger-than-expected loss for the GOP. In 2018, the entire GOP is adopting that failed strategy and we fully expect Stewart to once again set the standard for ugly, racist ads. He’s already vowed to run a “vicious” campaign.
But the “vicious” campaign is again likely to backfire and potentially endanger other Republicans running in competitive Virginia elections. As longtime Virginia political observer and professor Larry Sabato assessed:
VA Republicans now have a big problem. If the race goes as expected—IF—and Kaine wins handily, the undertow for the GOP could produce 2 or 3 gains for Ds in House seats. That’s a real one-state contribution to the +23 seats (net) Dems need nationally.
Besides Virginia, voters have rejected that messaging in off-year and special elections in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Florida. In almost all of the general election contests, it either has not worked, or it has backfired, around the country (check out the recent America’s Voice political memo).
Stewart’s win, in addition to results such as the loss of Mark Sanford in a South Carolina congressional primary to a full-fledged Trump acolyte yesterday, also remind us that the Republican Party is now Trump’s party, in all the ugliness that entails.
Again, as Sabato noted:
It really isn’t R vs D anymore. It’s T vs D. T for Trump. Truth in advertising should apply to parties.
Meanwhile, the Democratic base and larger coalition opposed to Trump continues to show energy. As pollster John Couvillon assessed on Twitter, looking at aggregate primary turnout numbers across the country:
TURNOUT COMPARISONS (2018 vs 2014): 17 states had contested Dem & Rep stwd primaries in 2014/2018. Data reported so far (California and Maine are not 100% in) shows Democratic turnout up 61%, & GOP turnout up 9%. 57% cast GOP prim ballot in ’14, 48% have so far this year.
Last night, in Wisconsin, Democrat won a special election for a Senate seat that has been in GOP control for decades:
Wisconsin Democrats won a special election on Tuesday in a state senate district that Donald Trump carried by 18 points. Democrat Caleb Frostman, a former head of the Door County Economic Development Corp, defeated Republican Rep. Andre Jacque by 800 votes in a district outside of Green Bay. It’s the first time a Democrat has won the seat in forty-one years.
While Republicans held on to an open assembly near Madison that was also on Tuesday’s ballot, the defeat was a major rebuke to Republican Gov. Scott Walker. As energized Trump-era Democrats won special elections in unexpected districts across the country earlier this year, Walker had refused to schedule the elections until three different judges ordered him to do so.
Comparing the June 2018 primary to the June primary in 2014, the share of the vote going towards Republican candidates has fallen dramatically in many of the very seats that Democrats are most hoping to flip this fall.