Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart may be trailing his opponent, Tim Kaine, by double digits in the latest polls, but he hasn’t given up yet. Earlier this month, the campaign trail brought him to the Dockside restaurant, in Hopewell, Virginia, for a meet and greet. Less than a dozen people showed up. I was one of them.
The price of admission was $50, which was about $50 more than I was willing to pay, but nonetheless, I reluctantly made the 30 minute drive out, thinking I might be able to slip in without paying if I stood in the back of the room and kept my mouth shut.
The Dockside restaurant sits on the outskirts of Hopewell, a small city southeast of Richmond. It’s located at the edge of the James River, just past the factories and manufacturing plants on Rt. 156. I was expecting to pull up to a crowded campaign event, but as I approached the restaurant, it became apparent that the meet-and-greet hadn’t attracted much of an audience.
I was quickly ushered into a small dining room where about 10 people had crowded around a few tables. Corey Stewart sat at the center, shaking hands and talking quietly with some of the guests. I sat down at the farthest table from the action, by far the youngest person in the room.
The attendees of the event immediately started glancing over at me, and Stewart himself seemed to recognize me as someone who didn’t belong there. A heavy-set man with a mustache and an oversized beige suit finally asked if I had a ticket.
I told him I didn’t, and the person sitting next to him told me I could stay if I had $50. I didn’t. I muttered something along the lines of, “maybe next time,” and walked out the door.
As I drove away, I felt like I’d walked in on a hushed gathering of co-conspirators. Which isn’t a stretch, Stewart had appeared in public with Jason Kessler, the white-supremacist who planned Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally. I wondered if this was how Mussolini, or a thousand other extremist right-wing agitators, had started out — quietly whipping up support in the forgotten districts of whatever country they were in.
Stewart has emerged as a force in Virginia politics that can’t be ignored, tapping into the Trump playbook which plays heavily on xenophobia, racism, and other divisive issues. And while has almost no chance of defeating incumbent Senator Tim Kaine in this year’s midterm contest, he won’t be going away anytime soon. He has a sizable following in Virginia’s deep-red rural areas who will vote for him on the basis that he is a Republican, regardless of his issues.
Throughout his Senate campaign, Stewart has campaigned doggedly on a platform of hardline anti-immigration policies, and has appeared at events with some of Virginia’s most virulent white supremacists.
Most notably, Stewart held a press conference with white supremacist Kessler ahead of his disastrous Unite the Right Rally in 2017. Stewart also appeared alongside Kessler on several occasions during his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign. His campaign for Senate has also accepted campaign contributions from the League of the South, a neo-confederate, white supremacist organization.
In recent months, the candidate has attempted to rebrand himself as a candidate that supports Virginia’s working class. Yet in a recent PBS interview, he struggled to answer basic questions about how he planned to support working class Virginians.
Stewart has praised himself on several occasions for receiving Twitter support from President Trump, notably for working alongside the President’s “MAGA Agenda.”
.@realDonaldTrump retweeted me 3 times in 2 days!
Mr. President, Virginians love what you are doing for ALL workers and their families. pic.twitter.com/XhRaxqnhre
— Corey Stewart (@CoreyStewartVA) September 3, 2018
But like his sparsely-attended campaign events, it looks as though the candidate’s bark is bigger than his bite — even according to FOX News. Outside the realm of Twitter, Stewart had little to say of the President’s support when questioned by a news anchor.
FOX host totally DRAGS him >>
HOST: But he hasn’t come to campaign for you.
COREY: We think he might be headed our way toward the end.
HOST: Really? Have you spoken to him?
COREY: We have not.
HOST: He’s been all over the country campaigning, you are just across the river. https://t.co/CndALweGFP
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) October 21, 2018
On October 9, Stewart held a rally in support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Fairfax, Virginia. The rally attracted about 40 supporters, and an equal number of protesters.
Stewart has certainly captured the attention and interest of a small but vocal minority around Virginia. But if you’re hoping to infiltrate his campaign events, we’ve got some unfortunate news for you — he probably won’t draw enough of a crowd for you to blend into.