Corey Stewart Won’t Run for Re-election

In a widely expected move, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart confirmed to the Washington Post that he will use his “State of the County” address at tonight’s board meeting to announce he is not running for re-election in November.

Though re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2015, the last four years have been a whirlwind, including two failed statewide campaigns and the embrace of cultural grievance politics that led to a suburban revolt against Republicans in Northern Virginia, including Prince William County.

Having run for statewide office for essentially two straight years (plus another, third bid in 2013, and perhaps a forth after being named Trump’s Virginia Chairman in 2016, before being fired), it became clear that Stewart’s ambitions outgrew the cozy confines of the role of a Supervisor, overseeing mundane day-to-day county services. Stewart confirmed as much to the Post:

As far as the Prince William County board job goes, he said, dealing with land-use cases and the county budget “just isn’t exciting for me anymore.”

Though not confirmed until today, Prince William County Republicans have been acting for months as if Stewart would not be on the ticket. In November, Republican Coles Supervisor Marty Nohe, who is also been the Chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority since 2009, announced that he would seek the Chairman’s position.

Privately and publicly, Prince William County Republicans — including many Stewart supporters — are breathing a sigh of relief. While Stewart has previously been a shoo-in for re-election in low turnout local elections, that would not have been the case in 2019. Prince William County went from giving Ed Gillespie 47 percent of the vote for U.S. Senate in 2014 to giving Corey Stewart 33 percent last year, as I’ve noted before.

Additionally, the controversies that dogged Stewart since his 2017 Governor’s campaign and continued throughout the Senate race have not gone away. As the Post notes:

In their bitter Senate race, Stewart was saddled by controversies over having associated with right-wing extremists, such as Paul Nehlen and Jason Kessler, who supported his calls to preserve Confederate monuments. Stewart said he cut those ties after learning about the racist beliefs each man harbored.

But their interactions, plus racist social media posts from Stewart advisers during the Senate campaign, led to charges that Stewart himself harbors white supremacists views, which he emphatically denies.

Finally, the biggest variable in 2019 is whether the local elections (there are eight or more races on the ballot, the highest of which is State Senate) would generate the same turnout among Democrats that swamped Republicans in 2017. By and large, Republicans candidates and incumbents that year hit their vote goal targets, leading to a false sense of comfort heading into Election Night and leaving them unprepared for the bloodbath that resulted. In Prince William alone, increased Democratic turnout ousted four Republican incumbents.

It remains an open question what turnout will look like in 2019, particularly after Democrats were successful in taking over the House of Representatives in 2018. However, everyone agrees that a controversial figure such as Stewart, who is so closely tied to a President whose approval rating is underwater in the county, would have a deleterious impact on Republican chances up and down the ballot.

Instead, the GOP ticket in Prince William will be led by the energetic and experienced Nohe as well strong candidates for House of Delegates in historically GOP seats that were wiped away two years ago.

If Republicans are able to set up a comeback in Virginia in 2019 and maintain one or both chambers heading into redistricting, Prince William County will be at the epicenter. Today’s news is the latest piece to fall into place on that path.