CNN | 2018-8-16 | Español

How Corey Stewart is dividing Republicans already

Updated: 4:09 PM ET, Wed June 13, 2018

(CNN) - The new Republican nominee for a US Senate seat in Virginia has already caused a great divide within his party in Washington.

Fewer than 24 hours after Corey Stewart's win Tuesday night, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to endorse his former Virginia campaign chair.

But congressional Republicans are cool to the campaign of the man who has embraced the commonwealth's Confederate past.

"Well look, we have a big map. Right now we are focused on Florida, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana. Big map. I don't see Virginia in it," Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm for Senate Republicans.

Stewart has been campaigning non-stop in Virginia for more than two years. Within days of his narrow primary loss for governor in 2017 to former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, Stewart announced plans to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Over the course of those two years, Stewart passionately argued against the removal of Confederate monuments throughout Virginia and defended the actions of some involved in the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that ended in violence.

Stewart is also a vocal supporter of Trump, and served as his campaign chair in Virginia before Trump fired him after he staged a news conference critical of the RNC during the presidential campaign. Trump conspicuously stayed out of the primary, but wasted little time backing Stewart with a tweet Wednesday.

"Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia. Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof," Trump tweeted. "Don't underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!"

Asked about Trump's support, Gardner tried to downplay the divide.

"Well again, I think my focus continues to be on a number of states that we have candidates who are winning and ahead," said Gardner, a Colorado Republican.

Stewart's opponent, Kaine, was critical of Stewart's embrace of the Confederacy.

"I don't really think it's about Confederate flags and Confederate monuments, I would say it's more about cozying up to people who have a tradition of white supremacy," said Kaine, who was the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president. "I mean, this isn't about the past, it's about the future."

But he stopped short of calling Stewart a racist.

"I think he is very comfortable trying to stir up bad attitudes in others, but I don't know him well enough to reach that conclusion about him," Kaine said. "But if you don't mind stoking it and praising people who have those views, that's just unacceptable."

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and the No. 2 GOP member of the chamber, said of Stewart that he didn't "know him from Adam so I'm interested in learning more and I'll reach my own conclusion."

"I don't really know anything about Corey Stewart," Cornyn told reporters. "I just saw that he won the primary last night. I'm interested in meeting him and learning more about him. Obviously, if we could pick up another Senate seat in Virginia that would be a good thing."

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who's also in leadership, also weighed in.

"Sometimes in a primary process, the thing that we try to get done is get the most electable candidate on the ballot in the fall and that doesn't always happen," Thune said.


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