Tim Kaine confident but cautious as polls give him wide lead
A final push if not final breath from Corey Stewart
Compared to more highly populated pockets of Virginia, Rappahannock County provides political candidates few votes come election time, but that didn’t stop incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and his Republican challenger Corey Stewart from stumping in Little Washington and Sperryville in recent days.
Stepping from his pickup truck upon arrival at Gadino Cellars for a Thursday evening fundraising appearance, one would never guess Stewart was lagging behind Kaine in the polling. Really lagging.
“There are no recent polls,” an upbeat Stewart told the Rappahannock News before heading indoors to greet a large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters sporting smiles as wide as his. “The polls that were done were by universities, and they were not of likely voters. So we think that it’s close. I think the Kaine campaign thinks it’s close.”
Kaine argues differently in a separate interview with this newspaper on Tuesday in Sperryville, although he’s taking no chances.
“That’s not right,” the senator said of Stewart’s reasoning on the polls, some giving Kaine anywhere from an 18 to 23 percent lead. “Anybody who is doing polling is usually polling likely voters, which is, a) they’re registered and, b) they have a history of actually voting. Any poll has a margin of error, but they don’t just call willy-nilly. They’re polling likely voters.
“And we do a lot of polling, too,” Kaine added. “And I use the same people to poll for me I’ve used for 20 years and they’ve never given me an inaccurate poll in any race I’ve been in. But I’ve learned polls are about preferences and elections are about energy, so preferences at the end of the day aren’t what you want on November Sixth, you want energy. So we’re really focused on energy, things like registrations — that shows you energy; early voting — that shows you energy; the size of crowds — energy.
“For a Democratic event in Rappahannock County, put together on relatively short notice, this is a pretty good crowd,” he said of the Headmaster’s Pub gathering.
Stewart, on the other hand, has grown accustomed to being unfazed by poll numbers, plus other hurdles placed before his candidacy. He’s had no choice. The four-term chairman of the board of supervisors in Prince William County has been in survival mode ever since the leadership of his own Republican party — Richmond north to Washington, D.C. — sought to block his controversial nomination.
“I think so,” Stewart replied, when asked if there was a chance of turning his candidacy around at this late stage, even though at virtually every campaign stop his opposition — much of it the media, he said — has accused him of holding alt-right, unite-the-right, anti-Semite sympathies, which he’s denied.
“They’ve called me everything — every bad word under the sun,” Stewart said. “But that’s part of it. You’ve just got to live with the media, and the major media is pretty biased. But I’ll tell you something, when I’m on the ground and I’m talking to people — in fact, unfriendly audiences — these things that the media has said about me never come up. Which means that even traditional Democrats aren’t buying this B.S.
“But I’m a Republican, so I’ve gotten used to it over the years,” he continued. “People can look through the bias I think.”
While Kaine is given kudos for working across the aisle on Capitol Hill, the senator doesn’t see somebody as outspoken and agenda-driven as Stewart working alongside Democrats if the opportunity were to present itself.
“I don’t think it would be a priority of his,” Kaine said of his opponent. “He name-calls me, but he name-calls Republicans as much as me. What you find when you do that is nobody wants to work with you. He’s kind of a caucus of one.”
If not senators, Stewart certainly has the support of Donald Trump, although the president’s kept his distance from the Republican’s contentious campaign. Stewart is unwavering in his support for the president, despite having been removed two years ago as co-chairman of Trump’s Virginia presidential campaign after joining a pro-Trump women’s demonstration outside Republican National Committee headquarters, infuriating the anti-Trump leadership inside.
“I was Trump before Trump was Trump,” Stewart declared then, and while in Rappahannock he doubled down in his praise of the president, who tweeted following the candidate’s primary victory over Nick Freitas: “Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”
“I think the president’s been doing a great job,” Stewart told the News. “I’m fully in line with him on building the border wall, removing dangerous criminal illegal aliens, making the tax cuts permanent, rebuilding our military, supporting our veterans. And Tim Kaine has been an automatic ‘no’ to virtually everything the president has proposed.
“I think Kaine is still bitter about 2016,” he added. “But I think by and large Virginians can see the reality that President Trump, even if they didn’t support him in 2016, he’s done a very good job for the country.”
Kaine, who was at Hillary Clinton’s side when the Democratic ticket came up short against Trump and his vice presidential running mate Mike Pence, gave us his take on the president’s standing midway through his first term, from concerns about his unpredictable governing — voiced by Democrats and Republicans alike — to his share of “enablers” on Capitol Hill.
“I have great relationships with Republicans,” Kaine said. “Out of 51 Republicans right now there are one-third who truly believe Trump is fantastic. So I set them aside. Two-thirds are deeply worried about President Trump, and they have been from the first day — emotionally volatile, the kind of people he hangs around with, ethically compromised . . .
“But they’re in a situation where their most reliable voters love President Trump. President Trump’s [approval] numbers will never go below about 35 percent. That’s zero of my voters but that’s 70 percent of their voters — ‘I worry about this guy, but if I cross him I’m going to alienate my voters and they will desert me.’
“So of the two-thirds that are worried about Trump, which is 35 or 36 of them, there’s only 5 to 10 who will ever speak up, while the others are afraid of the Trump voter.”
With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, Stewart will no doubt benefit from Trump’s Virginia supporters, even if the president and Pence took just 44 percent of the state’s popular vote compared to 50 percent for Clinton and Kaine.
Not present for the senator’s Sperryville appearance was 5th district Democratic congressional candidate Leslie Cockburn, who makes her home in Rappahannock. Cockburn was campaigning in Danville Tuesday, as polls have her running neck and neck with Republican challenger Denver Riggleman.
“I’m amazed at how well she’s doing,” Kaine told this newspaper of Cockburn. “It’s made me check my preconceptions a bit. I tend to really favor a primary to do a nomination. The fact that the fifth did the caucus; I’ve never been in a caucus, I’ve only been in primaries. But the caucus advantages those who in every county can put together a really solid core of volunteers, and that’s why Leslie won. She was able to do that.
“That turns out to have incredible utility then when you switch into a general election,” he continued. “This is a gerrymandered district that is red — of the competitive races in Virginia it is the reddest of the ones that I would say are competitive. But the way she won the caucus, built up the infrastructure that she has.
“I still say we all either should run unopposed or run scared. I’m running scared, and I hope she is too,” said Kaine. “But there are a number of features in this race that make it doable for her.”