FAIRFAX, Va.—Corey Stewart said he voted for the man he once called a “cuckservative” in Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Virginia.
The chairman of Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors, and a former state chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, shocked the political world by almost beating gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie in the summer’s low turnout primary. Stewart’s insurgent bid, powered in part on preservation of Confederate monuments, was in contrast to the subdued primary campaign of Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee,.
In the months leading up to the election though, Gillespie has campaigned more like Stewart: with a focus on cultural issues like defending Confederate statues and even a mailer about NFL players who choose to kneel during the National Anthem.
“If he wins today, it’ll be because he’s adopted a more conservative approach, a more populist Republican approach that is embodied by the president and then myself in Virginia,” Stewart told The Daily Beast in a phone interview on Tuesday.
However, Stewart said that Gillespie may not have embraced this mantle enough, as the former RNC chairman often shies away from these hot-button issues on the stump.
“It all depends upon the candidate and whether people think he’s sincere,” Stewart said. “The Gillespie campaign has been running these ads but Gillespie himself has not been talking about MS-13 and protecting historical monuments. He has not been as hard-edged on the stump and in front of the news media and so I think that may hurt him.”
Stewart is just one of many potential hard-right Republican candidates running next year with the blessing of former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Both men are eagerly looking to Virginia as a harbinger of a potential model of success for the upcoming midterm elections.
During a speech on Saturday, Bannon predicted that Stewart and Trump voters would bring the race home for Gillespie.
“If Gillespie… a Bush guy… wins, and I do believe that Gillespie’s going to pull this thing out,” Bannon said, “it will be because of the underlying message of Corey Stewart and what he believes in, and the Trump voters in Virginia who are gonna turn out!”
And he might be right.
When Gillespie rallied supporters at his final campaign event in the crowded, burning-hot basement of the Fairfax County Republican headquarters on Monday night, one man stood out huddled behind the swarm of TV cameras: Chris Cox, the founder of Bikers for Trump.
“We are here to be a difference-maker in this election,” Cox told to The Daily Beast. “I encourage all of our bikers to do their homework and find out what they can about the candidates and get to the polls.”
He called the moment a “perfect storm” and said The Democrats are “in shambles,” promising to bring out at least 1,800 bikers to the polls on election day.
“Hopefully we’ll have 3,500-4,000 bikers show up to vote who might have otherwise stayed home,” Cox continued.
Stewart himself rallied with the group in Virginia Beach just over a week ago and was joined by two-thirds of the Republican gubernatorial ticket absent Gillespie himself.
Whether the Trump base shows up for Gillespie on Tuesday is yet to be determined but for Stewart, it will be validation that his brand of hard-right politics can work in the absence of Trump himself.
“The Republican party is changing,” Stewart told The Daily Beast. “It’s becoming more populist. “There are going to be some dinosaurs out there who refuse to change and eventually they’re going to go extinct.”