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Controversial candidate Corey Stewart wins GOP nomination in Virginia Senate race

CNN logo CNN 6/13/2018 By Eric Bradner, CNN
Republican primary senatorial candidate Del. Nick Freitas, gestures as E. W. Jackson, left, and Corey Stewart, right, listen during a debate at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Steve Helber/AP/FILE Republican primary senatorial candidate Del. Nick Freitas, gestures as E. W. Jackson, left, and Corey Stewart, right, listen during a debate at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Corey Stewart, the bombastic conservative who built his public image on championing Confederate symbols, won the Republican Senate nomination in Virginia.

Stewart, a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, defeated state House member Nick Freitas and minister E.W. Jackson in Tuesday's primary. Freitas conceded the race Tuesday night, according to local media.

He now faces Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, the party's 2016 vice presidential nominee and a heavy favorite for re-election, in November's midterm election.

Stewart launched his Senate campaign after surprising -- and alarming -- national Republicans by winning 42.5% in last year's gubernatorial primary against former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie.

In 2016, Stewart spent several months as the Virginia chairman of Donald Trump's campaign, though the campaign fired him before the election for participating in a protest outside the Republican National Committee.

He made Charlottesville's push to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee the centerpiece of his campaign for governor, holding rallies for the monument and displaying Confederate flags while defending "heritage" at his events. At one point, he attended an Old South ball.

He attended a news conference with the leader of the white supremacist protest that later resulted in the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville. And after that counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed in a hit-and-run, Stewart blamed the violence on "both sides."

Conservative forces had aligned with Freitas in a bid to keep Stewart off the statewide ballot. The Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity, as well as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the race in the closing weeks. However, Stewart was a much better known contender.

Republicans down the ballot now have to worry that that they've been saddled with one of the nation's most controversial nominees in November. Republican Reps. Barbara Comstock, Scott Taylor and Dave Brat all face competitive races for re-election.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP's campaign arm, declined to comment Tuesday night on whether it would support Stewart now that he's won the party's nomination.

Kaine's campaign blasted Stewart in a statement minutes after news organizations declared Stewart the winner.

"A cruder imitation of Donald Trump who stokes white supremacy and brags about being 'ruthless and vicious,' Corey Stewart would be an embarrassment for Virginia in the US Senate," said Kaine communications director Ian Sams.

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