Since 2013, self identified libertarians and many center ground independents have become a larger voting block in the Commonwealth of Virginia. With the 7% total received by Libertarian candidate for Governor Robert Sarvis in 2013, Democrats and Republicans have had to figure out why voters aren’t just rejecting one party, but both. The bellwether state was used as a case study by many partisans and consultants as the threat of a 3rd party candidate loomed towards the 2016 general election, eventually coming to fruition in the form of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, CIA officer Evan McMullin, and medical doctor Jill Stein.
Fast forward to now, many politicians are scrambling to figure which way the culture is heading towards in the turbulent age of Donald Trump’s America. With another election coming around the corner in Virginia, many commentators are saying that this series of midterm races will be the first major referendum on the Trump administration. With that said, Virginia has been in the crosshairs of the media since the 2016 general election. Freshman Congressman Tom Garrett of the 5th Congressional district of Virginia for example, joined the House Freedom Caucus and was instrumental in the fight against “RyanCare” along with becoming a prime target of leftist groups such as Antifa. Back stateside, the Governor’s race too became a national affair as well favored Ed Gillespie almost lost to former Trump chairman and Alt-Right darling Corey Stewart, who within days of losing to Gillespie by a short 1%, went on to announce his current US Senate campaign to take out incumbent Tim Kaine. With all this said, the events in Charlottesville regarding the white supremacist rally last August didn’t make things any calmer.
With a divided political climate and shifting political worldview, both the Republican and Democratic parties have had to do some serious re-evaluating of who they are as a party, and while many seek establishment leadership at the federal level to do that, the Republicans on the other hand are relying on state level candidates to do that for them, and you guessed it, Virginia is back in everyone’s focus.
One of the most talked about races heading towards November regarding this change in political tone is currently in Virginia’s District 30, a solid red district with an increasing Democrat voter base. Delegate Nick Freitas, who was first elected in 2015, has made a name for himself as both an independent thinker and a Republican with a large libertarian streak, earning him the respect of independents, civil liberties oriented progressives, and free market focused libertarians thanks to his support of deregulation, school choice, industrial hemp, and open opposition to crony capitalism. This liberty minded streak that Freitas represents has strengthened the conservative base since 2013, and because of that, Democrats have been paying attention.
In order to bring back the blue dog Democrats that went for Trump in 2016, Virginia Democrats have had to find ways to try to reconnect with voters who aren’t into the Bernie Sanders styled socialism, Clinton cronyism, or social justice component that the Left has been pushing towards since the age of Obama. Because of this, Democrats in District 30 opted to nominate a transplant from Seattle (who hasn’t lived in the district for even a full year at this point) calling himself a “progressive libertarian.”
Ben Hixon, a software engineer from Washington and current Democrat opponent to Freitas, has made many on the Right uncomfortable with his description of the Democratic party as the “party of Freedom.” During a live debate with Hixon on my program, he stated his support for “free” two-year college, universal basic income, a $15 minimum, single-payer healthcare, and subsidized broadband expansion, all policies that go against the free market principles of libertarian thought. This hasn’t bugged some self-described libertarians though (especial since they don’t have a Libertarian Party candidate in this fight) as they have stated that their sole support for Hixon is based off his support for legalized pot. To understand what voters think, I drove down to one of Freitas’ campaign events in Culpepper to see voters had to say about someone trying to step up to Freitas’ freedom minded movement.
According to one attendee, “I think Ben Hixon is trying out something new for Democrats which is lets take the brand of freedom and see if that works out for us. I think it’s a bit disingenuous, especially if you look at his platform, his history, his record and what he is calling for… I mean he’s calling himself a libertarian but proposing reinstating the inheritance tax for one in Virginia is not libertarian. I’m glad he’s at least talking about freedom, but it’s not enough to just talk about it, you have to actually understand what it means and I don’t think he’s there yet.”
Mike Wood, the Chairman of the local branch of Dr. Ron Paul’s 501c(4) Campaign For Liberty and current first vice chair of the Spotsylvania County Republican Committee, stated in regards to Hixon’s self described “progressive-libertarianism” that “it’s an oxymoron, libertarianism is a basis upon which government does not interfere with people’s lives and so it is opposite to progressivism which is focused entirely on getting more involved with people’s lives.”
One undecided voter named Charles I spoke to stated with this shift in political paradigm towards more freedom in his district, he’d have to invest more time into understanding the policy differences between the two candidates, but that he was leaning more towards Freitas based of his voting record in the General Assembly.
Still, this one race which already has Freitas as the frontrunner is one thing the Republican Party of Virginia doesn’t have to worry about too much, especially since the state party is still trying to piece together a divided team as they go up against an energized Democratic base, receiving large amounts of money from outside the state . With so much going on however, Republicans are now forced to already start planning for the 2018 cycle thanks to Corey Stewart. With former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina stating she would not run for Tim Kaine’s senate seat, this has essentially paved the way for Stewart’s ascendancy, which is worrying Republicans who think his brand of protectionist economic policies and flirtation with white nationalist sentiments would be detrimental to the party in the long run. This dilemma has once again brought back the focus of the problem not just to Virginia, but (you guessed it) Delegate Nick Freitas.
During the summer, a grassroots sentiments began to strike rumors of a potential US Senate run for Freitas. At the event I was at in Culpepper, the focus was on this upcoming November election, but 2018 was on everyone’s mind. Mike Wood, who I had spoken to earlier, told me “I would support Nick for any run for any office. He can articulate the principles of freedom better than any candidate currently in Virginia.”
Before leaving, I ran into Delegate Tim Hugo of Virginia’s 40th District and current majority caucus chairman. When asked about Freitas’ rumored run, Hugo stated confidently “Nick is an outstanding leader, he’s a guy whose military career and leadership in the General Assembly, and pure conviction shows he believes and will stand for something on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia and be a great voice in Washington DC.”
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