Corey Stewart has had a rough few weeks.
Stewart, the Republican nominee challenging incumbent Democratic senator Tim Kaine in Virginia this fall, has come under sustained fire lately as news outlets have uncovered disturbing past comments from his campaign staff and from Stewart himself — shedding new light on the candidate’s friendly relationships with white-nationalist figures.
The negative publicity seems already to be taking a toll. In a VCU poll of likely voters released late last week, Kaine led Stewart by a comfortable 23 points, 49 percent to Stewart’s 26. That’s an improvement for Kaine from the 18-point lead he enjoyed over Stewart in a Quinnipiac poll from late June, shortly after Stewart won the GOP nomination.
A bit of bad press alone rarely tanks a campaign, but for Stewart, the series of hard hits has established a troubling pattern.
Some of the relevant history was already known. In early 2017 — when he ran against Republican stalwart Ed Gillespie in the gubernatorial primary — Stewart said he was “inspired” by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Paul Nehlen’s failed primary challenge of House speaker Paul Ryan. At the time, Stewart called Nehlen one of his “personal heroes,” and Stewart’s campaign was later found to have paid Nehlen a fundraising commission for the use of his email list.
Then, in November — after Nehlen had publicly promoted white nationalism and anti-Semitism, and after Stewart had lost to Gillespie and announced a Senate campaign against Kaine — Stewart accepted Nehlen’s endorsement and offered his own endorsement in return.
Also last year, Stewart appeared at a February event protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in downtown Charlottesville. The event was hosted by Unity and Security for America, a right-wing group led by white supremacist Jason Kessler, who went on to organize the Unite the Right neo-Nazi march that caused violence in Charlottesville last August.
“All the weak Republicans, they couldn’t apologize fast enough,” Stewart told the Washington Post in an interview just after the Charlottesville rally. “They played right into the hands of the left wing. Those people have nothing to do with the Republican party. There was no reason to apologize.”
When public scrutiny arose earlier this summer over those past entanglements, Stewart said he disavowed both Nehlen and Kessler, claiming he had been unaware of their extremism when he appeared with them (and endorsed Nehlen). But the latest reporting has found evidence that Stewart might be just as comfortable with their extremist views as these associations suggest.
In a speech last spring, for example, Stewart praised Virginia’s decision to secede from the union. CNN’s K-File uncovered a video of Stewart’s April 2017 remarks given at an event in South Boston, Va. — an event that was, according to records from Virginia’s Department of Elections, hosted by secessionist George Randall.