The Bulletin

Three Republicans qualify for GOP primary to challenge U.S. Sen Mark Warner

By: - April 1, 2020 2:13 pm

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., talks to reporters in 2019 at a breakfast in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. (Michael Bonfigli/ Christian Science Monitor)

Three Republicans with fairly low profiles in state politics have qualified to compete in a June primary for the chance to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in the November general election, according to the Republican Party of Virginia.

The candidates who filed enough petition signatures to be on the ballot June 9 are retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Gade, Army reservist Tom Speciale and Nottoway County teacher Alissa Baldwin.

Omari Faulkner, an Army reservist and former Georgetown basketball player who successfully sued to force the state to change its eligibility rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic, did not qualify for the ballot even though a Richmond judge granted his request last week to lower the petition signature threshold from 10,000 to 3,500. Faulkner’s campaign had said in a court filing it had 3,769 signatures, but the state advises candidates to go well above the minimum requirements because some signatures will be tossed out because the signer wasn’t a registered voter.

Faulkner had argued that social distancing rules had made it unreasonably difficult for political hopefuls to gather signatures from eligible Virginia voters, a key hurdle campaigns have to clear to show there’s an organized effort behind a candidate.

As the Republican Party of Virginia finished certifying the candidates’ petition signatures Tuesday night, Faulkner, who is African American, released a statement accusing the party of “blatant racism and sexism,” claiming there were irregularities in the party’s certification process.

“President Donald Trump has worked hard to reach into communities that have not felt they had a home in the Republican Party, such as African Americans and women,” Faulkner’s campaign said. “Instead of building on his success, the Republican Party of Virginia and Chairman Jack Wilson are at best, careless with this process or inept, and, at worst, blatantly racist and sexist by purposely keeping the only African American and female off the ballot to let the Republican voters decide their nominee for U.S. Senate.”

Faulkner’s campaign seemed to be under the impression that Baldwin had also been disqualified, but the state GOP announced Wednesday morning that she had been certified to appear on the ballot.

On Wednesday evening, after this story was published, Faulkner’s campaign released a new statement saying the previous broadside against the party was released by a “rightfully frustrated” staffer but not authorized by Faulkner.

“I do not know the chairman personally and do not ever presume to know the motivations of
anyone,” Faulkner said in the second statement. “I am proud to be a Republican, and know that many other Republicans across the state are just as upset as I am by this result.”

Warner is considered a strong favorite to win reelection this year. Republicans haven’t won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009 and the state GOP has seen its political power shrink considerably in the Trump era, losing their majorities in the General Assembly and three congressional seats.

Former Congressman Scott Taylor, R-Virginia Beach, had launched a bid to challenge Warner, but shifted gears to run in his old congressional district against U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat who currently holds the 2nd District seat.

In 2018, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., defeated Corey Stewart, a conservative firebrand and staunch Trump supporter, by about 16 percentage points, a lopsided margin in what was once considered a purple state

With many aspects of daily life shut down to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not yet clear how the June 9 primaries will work. The state has said everyone who wants to can cast an absentee ballot by mail in the May 5 municipal elections, an accommodation that could also be extended to the June contests. But the state has not responded to local election officials’ call to cancel in-person voting for both the May and June elections as a way to prevent spreading the virus at polling places.

Northam has said he expects the state to issue updated election guidelines soon.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]