RICHMOND — For the second time in two years, no big-name Republicans in Virginia are bothering to try to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Once a hotly contested swing state where Senate elections were decided by small margins, Virginia has swung solidly blue in the Trump era as voters in the state’s growing suburbs reject the president’s agenda. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine won re-election against an underfunded opponent by more than 15 percentage points two years ago.
This year, three relatively unknown Republicans are competing to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat who is seeking his third term in the Senate. The primary will take place Tuesday.
“Mark Warner gets, essentially, a pass this time,” said Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University.
Warner barely won six years ago against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, but no experienced Republicans want to take Warner on this time around. Former Congressman Scott Taylor initially announced a bid before changing his mind and running for his old, much more competitive, Virginia Beach-area U.S. House seat instead.
That leaves three political newcomers — Daniel Gade, Thomas Speciale and Alissa Baldwin — vying to be the GOP nominee.
Gade has raised by far the most money and has the highest profile of the three. He is a retired Army officer who was seriously injured in Iraq in 2005, losing a leg after his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.
Gade advised President George W. Bush on military and disability issues and was Trump’s appointee to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but withdrew his nomination after a lengthy delay in the Senate over his confirmation. Gade previously taught at West Point and now teaches at American University.
He said he’s undeterred by Warner’s advantages.
“Even if this is a blue year, even if Virginia is a blue state, so what? Our values are worth fighting for,” Gade said.
If elected, Gade pledged not to be a “rubber stamp” for the president but said Trump is “good on the policies that I care about,” such as religious liberty.
Speciale is a defense contractor and Army reservist who has largely self-funded his campaign. He said he’d be a “junk yard dog” in debates against Warner and said Republicans are looking for his type of pro-Trump conservatism.
“They want people who are real. They want people who love America,” he said.
Baldwin is a public school teacher in Nottoway County who has barely raised any money.
Warner is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Other notable races Tuesday include Virginia 2nd Congressional District GOP primary between Taylor, Ben Loyola Jr. and Jarome Bell. Taylor, a former Navy Seal, narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria in 2018 in one of the most competitive congressional district in the country. Like Taylor, both Loyola and Bell are Navy veterans. The district includes the Norfolk Naval Base, the largest navy base in the world.
Four Democrats are vying to take on Bob Good in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, which stretches along the western part of the state from Northern Virginia to the North Carolina border and includes much of the Charlottesville area.
Democrats think the Trump-leaning district could flip after Good defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman in a GOP convention earlier this month. Riggleman angered social conservatives in his district when he officiated a gay wedding.
The Democrats running are R.D. Huffstetler Jr., Dr. Cameron Webb, Claire Russo and John Lesinski.
Republicans will pick a candidate in Virginia’s other closely watched district — the 7th, currently held by U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger — next month in a convention. State Del. Nick Freitas is among the favorites to win, but failed to submit his campaign paperwork on time for the second straight election in a row.
Last year, Freitas had to mount a pricey write-in campaign to keep his state House seat. The state elections board next month likely will hear his request for an extension to file this year’s paperwork.
The 7th District includes Orange and Louisa counties.