Thoughts on Tuesday’s Primary

Photo from Corey Stewart for Congress’ Facebook page

Leading up to the primary on June 12th, I asked activists who they thought would win the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Virginia.  As is the case in many elections, most people stated that their preferred candidate would win.  Stewart people assumed Corey Stewart would be victorious while Freitas people thought likewise about Nick Freitas.  Although I supported and ended up casting my vote for Delegate Freitas, I stated that I thought Stewart would win.

Image from the Virginia State Board of Elections

Why? Well, as stated above, it wasn’t because I wanted Mr. Stewart to be the Republican nominee.  At this point, Corey Stewart has almost reached the status of a perennial candidate.  He briefly ran for U.S. Senate in 2011-12, finished third for the Lt. Gov nomination in 2013, and came close to winning the Republican nomination for Virginia Governor in 2017.   However, if you look back the last time that Corey Stewart ran for statewide office, in 2017, he narrowly lost the Republican nomination to Ed Gillespie.  Gillespie won 43.74% and Stewart got 42.5%.  If he had gotten blown out last year, it is unlikely that anyone would have taken him seriously in 2018.  As an example, consider E.W. Jackson, who was the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor in 2013.  He ended up losing the general election by over 10 points thus making it far less likely that the Republican Party would ever give him another statewide nomination.  Stewart, conversely, was close in his last attempt.

Then there is the issue of fundraising.  As of May 23rd, the Freitas campaign had raised $502,784.  By comparison, the Stewart campaign had raised $841,112.  Money isn’t everything, but it certainly helps.

Next is the matter of name ID.  Although none of the three candidates were terribly well-known across the state, presumably Stewart was bolstered by his previous runs.  Chances are that activists who had supported Stewart in 2017 would likely do so again.  Therefore, he already had an established base to build from.  Although he traveled the state during the election cycle, Freitas was a less well-known name without a cadre of longtime supporters scattered across the various corners of Virginia.

Another aspect concerned endorsements and the ideology each candidate represented.  While Corey Stewart represents Trump populism, Freitas is part of the liberty/small government movement, and Jackson has the religious right.  Although President Trump isn’t particularly popular with Virginians as a whole, he does seem to command a loyal and active following among a sizable segment of Virginia Republican voters.  Oddly, unlike just about every other year, there wasn’t a candidate from the establishment wing of the Republican Party.  Several months ago, I was told that Representative Barbara Comstock would be entering the race but that never happened.  As such, many in the Republican establishment endorsed Nick Freitas.  At face value, you might think that the establishment combined with the liberty-wing would be enough for a winning coalition in the primary.  After all, the establishment more or less propelled Ed Gillespie to the Republican nomination in 2017 single-handedly.  Liberty-minded folks may have cast a vote for Gillespie, but I doubt many were excited about it.

However, upon further reflection, it is likely that many in the establishment weren’t all that enthusiastic about Freitas, but it was rather a lesser of three evils type of scenario for them.  In 2013, Jackson demonstrated that it would be nearly impossible for him to win statewide and some of his comments derided as bigoted or closed-minded could hurt the GOP in other races.  As for Stewart, his ties to the alt-right with to the Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, his previous false or misleading statements about Ed Gillespie in 2017, the fact that he represented the same Trump faction that lost Virginia in 2017, and that he was likely seen as an uncontrollable force resulted in some of them viewing his nomination as an unmitigated disaster for the Republican Party of Virginia.  Given some of Freitas’ outstanding bills in the General Assembly which would curb the power of the party bosses, my assumption was that the establishment ended up supporting Freitas out of perceived necessity, not desire, and thus I assumed that their level of support would be far lower than it would be for someone like Gillespie.

The night before the primary, I stopped by my local polling place in Harrisonburg to see which campaigns had placed signs at the precinct.  Although signs don’t win elections, they are one way to gauge levels of campaign activism.  When I arrived, I found Brent Finnegan, the 2017 Democratic candidate for the 26th House district placing signs for Jennifer Lewis.  There were also signs for Peter Volosin, but none for any of the Republican Senatorial candidates.  However, when I went to cast my vote for Nick Freitas around noon the next day, several of his signs had appeared in the interim.

Image from the Virginia State Board of Elections

Once polls closed at 7, I sat in front of my computer, watching the results on both the VPAP and NY Times websites.  To my surprise, Freitas took an early lead…but could it last?  Were my predictions wrong?  At one point, E.W. Jackson jumped out in front with a commanding lead due to results from Virginia Beach.  However, upon closer inspection, I discovered that one precinct had erroneously given Jackson several tens of thousands of extra votes, likely the result of a few misplaced additional zeros in his totals.  When it was corrected, Jackson did not come close to leading for the rest of the night.  As results continued to come in, the difference between Freitas and Stewart began to tighten.  At around 85% of the vote reporting, Freitas was still leading.  But I thought it prudent to check where the bulk of the outstanding votes were left to report.  Most were either in Prince William County (where Stewart is the chairman of the board of supervisors) or Fairfax County directly to the north.  Although Freitas was still leading, I realized at that point that Stewart had almost certainly won the election once all the votes were in.

During the evening, I wondered if either the Stewart or Freitas camps would deride E.W. Jackson as a spoiler, declaring that his candidacy cost them victory.  If he weren’t in the race, I assumed that a majority of his votes would have gone to Stewart, but without seeing the exit polls, it is difficult to say with any measure of certainty.  Jackson won about 12% of the vote.  If asked, I would have recommended that Jackson not run as I believe it would only hurt his future prospects of holding elected office (if any).  Nevertheless, I believe he had every right to run (just like anyone else) no matter how slim his chances happened to be and that it is unfair to call him a spoiler.

In November, Virginia will likely have three candidates on the ballot, Republican Corey Stewart, Democrat Tim Kaine, and Libertarian Matt Waters.  At this point, I would assume that Kaine will best Stewart by at least 10 points.  However, regardless of my predictions, I recommend to you, dear reader, to research all three of your choices and vote for the one who best embodies your values.  I know I will.

That Contemptible Oath

On Friday, April 28th, the Democratic Parties of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County held a firehouse primary to determine the Democratic nominee for the 26th district House of Delegates seat.  The two choices were Cathy Copeland and Brent Finnegan.  Although I met first Ms. Copeland at her announcement, I’ve known Brent many years.  Facebook tells me we’ve been friends since 2010.

Unlike a traditional primary, a firehouse primary has fewer polling locations (there were two, one in Harrisonburg and one in Rockingham County).  In addition, the process is run by the party and not the state.  However, unlike a convention or some caucuses, the primary is held in public facilities and is open to the general public, not simply party members.

When I first learned about this contest, I was interested in learning more about both of the candidates and their positions.  After all, I would want the candidate I agreed with most to win this primary, in the same way, I would want the candidate who most was in line with my positions to win the general election.  However, when I discovered that the Democratic Party would require each voter in the primary to sign a loyalty oath, I lost interest in the process.  I was told that each participant in the 26th district Democratic primary would be required to sign an oath to agree to support whoever won the primary regardless of who he or she was or what he or she may stand for.

It reminded me a bit of the 2014 Republican Party of Virginia Convention.  As someone who attended the previous three conventions, I looked forward to the one taking place that year.  Although I had been expelled from the party months before I was told I could still participate.  However, I was dismayed to discover that each attendee was required to sign a loyalty oath to support all of the Republican candidates in the following general election.  As I was running for local office, I could not honorably sign a document pledging support to my Republican opponents.

Although I didn’t vote, I stood outside of the polling place for several hours on Friday in order to collect signatures for Cliff Hyra, a fellow seeking the Libertarian nomination for governor.  I overheard Kai Degner, a former Democratic city council member, wondering if I would sign the pledge.  While there, I ran into my first college professor.  She taught Intro to International Relations at JMU which I took while a student in high school.  However, she came back out of the building after waiting in line for some time stating that she didn’t cast a ballot as she refused to sign a document automatically pledging her support to whomever won the primary.  I spoke to one candidate, Mr. Finnegan, about the matter, and he said he wished that instead voters were asked to state their support the principles of the Democratic Party rather than their wholesale support of their candidate.

For a party who prides itself for sticking up for the rights of the poor, marginalized, and those discriminated against, the idea of a loyalty oath ought to be repugnant to both rank and file Democrats and independents.  In addition, the thing is completely and legally unenforceable so what purpose does it serve other than trying to guilt trip voters into supporting candidates they might not otherwise vote for simply because they wish to express their opinions?  Should such a thing even be legal given that the primary was held in a public place, inside Harrisonburg’s City Hall?  I wonder how many people who planned to vote in Friday’s contest, like my former professor, were turned away for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the Democratic Party and her candidates? My advice to the local Democrats is, don’t hold your party nomination contest in a public place and invite the public to attend if you are planning to make voters sign a pledge to support you in the process.  Not only is it bad public relations, it is also an insult to the principles of political freedom.

Lastly, congrats to Brent Finnegan for winning the primary.  Unless another candidate enters the race, the choices for the voters of the 26th district in November are Brent Finnegan (D) and Tony Wilt (R).  It should be interesting to see how they compare.

Cathy Copeland in for the 26th

Earlier today, Cathy Copeland kicked off her campaign for the 26th district House of Delegates seat.  She is seeking the Democratic nomination.  To the best of my knowledge, for the first time in over 30 years, there will be a fire house primary to determine the Democratic nominee for this seat as Brent Finnegan is vying for the position as well.  Mr. Finnegan kicked off his campaign on Saturday in Broadway.

Ms. Copeland made this speech regarding her candidacy at the Pale Fire Brewery in downtown Harrisonburg.

Unlike most years, where a majority of the elections in the central Shenandoah Valley are uncontested, we now have: 2 Democrats and 1 Republican running in the 26th, a Democrat and a Republican in the 58th, a Democrat and a Republican in the 25th, and a Democrat, a Libertarian, and a Republican in the 20th.

Where do these candidates stand on the important issues of the day?  Will the Democrats and Libertarians field additional candidates?  Will there be any Republican nomination fights?  And will any of these challengers unseat an incumbent?  So far, this election year is shaping up to be far more interesting than usual!