Navy veteran Hung Cao wins GOP nomination in Virginia’s 10th District

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He entered the crowded Republican primary race in Northern Virginia with little name recognition and no experience in public service or campaigning.

But early Sunday morning, retired US Navy Captain Hung Cao, 50, walked away with the GOP nomination in Virginia’s 10th congressional district and the chance to face Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D) in November , beating 10 candidates and upsetting the most well-funded candidate, member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors Jeanine Lawson (R-Brentsville).

Cao, a Vietnamese refugee who went on to serve 25 years as a naval officer, drew on a personal story that many voters said they found compelling as he maximized outreach to minority communities and addressed some of the same themes, such as the fight against “indoctrination”. in education – which carried Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to victory last year. About 44% of voting-age people in the district are minorities, 17% of whom are Asian Americans.

“We came to this country with nothing,” Cao said in an interview on Sunday. “We worked our way up and made it work, and we took every opportunity this country gave us, and we got no handouts. This resonates with all the inhabitants of this neighborhood, especially all immigrants and minorities. And all hard-working Americans, not just minorities.

Rep. Bob Good and Navy veteran Hung Cao win GOP nominations in Virginia

In a party-run firehouse primary that used priority voting, Cao walked away with about 53% of the vote to about 34% for Lawson. About 15,000 Republicans voted.

Cao’s victory sets up an intriguing matchup between a political novice with clear popular appeal in conservative circles and Wexton, a former Loudoun County prosecutor and state senator who toppled the district blue in 2018 by a margin. two digits. Cao’s nomination aligns with the Virginia GOP’s efforts to elevate more diverse slates of candidates to expand the party tent — like Attorney General Jason S. Miyares and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears — and it could become an asset to Republicans in what will be a tough bid to oust Wexton in the Blue District.

Although President Biden won 10th while trailing now by 18 percentage points in 2020, Republicans have hoped overturning the red seat might be within reach after Youngkin made significant progress in the district. in his run for governor, losing the 10th recut by less than two. points. His success has encouraged National Republicans to target Wexton, one of three congressmen from Virginia they hope to unseat in a midterm election year that is expected to be a referendum on Democratic power. Millions of dollars will likely be poured into ads and voter education in the coming months by outside groups and both campaigns.

But as Cao’s victory illustrates, money isn’t always everything — even in a region like Northern Virginia, one of the country’s most expensive media markets where candidates must jockey to attract attention. careful to get their message across to voters. And as he prepares to take on Wexton, Cao argued that his win proved that political experience wasn’t everything either: “Look at yesterday’s primaries: they didn’t want a political veteran; they wanted a new voice,” he said on Sunday.

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Lawson had raised more than $920,000 — more than double what Cao had raised — and had high-profile support from Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY), the third House Republican, and several other right-wing activists from foreground.

Lawson had presented herself as a leading fighter against “woke” racial equity policies. But Lawson also faced attacks from the right in a vote she took in 2020 — a unanimous bipartisan vote — to “develop a framework to become a more inclusive and equitable Prince William County.”

David Ramadan, a former Republican state lawmaker who represented parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, recalled seeing attacks on the vote proliferate in right-wing circles online. It was “incredible” given that Lawson had a reputation as a staunch conservative, he said.

“Jeanine Lawson started out as the favored candidate, and she had pretty much Who’s Who endorsements from mainstream conservative leaders and activists, from Morton Blackwell to Ken Cuccinelli,” said Ramadan, an instructor at the Schar School of Policy and Government in George Mason University. . “She also had a record as a civil servant – and that record was not right enough for the MAGA wing of the party.”

Ramadan, noting Loudoun County’s large American and South Asian immigrant population, suggested Cao likely succeeded with a resonant immigrant history and minority community outreach — but also in part because he had no record that the Republican base could criticize. And he capitalized on issues that energized those voters, such as election integrity and fighting education policies involving racial equity, Ramadan said.

Cao was born in Vietnam and fled the country with his family shortly before the fall of Saigon in 1975. In an interview last week, he recalled his mother sewing silver into the hems of his clothes and those of his brothers and sisters, in case they are separated. And as he watched the fall of Kabul in August, seeing Afghan mothers handing over their babies to US Marines, Cao said the deadly withdrawal reminded him of his family’s experience. Shortly after, he decided to run for Congress.

A father of five whose children are home-schooled, Cao has hammered education throughout his campaign. He advocated for school choice and sought to appeal to conservative parents who had become active in school board meetings to oppose “critical race theory” and policies of equity and racial diversity.

Cao, a graduate of the district’s elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, had spoken out in his opposition to changes made by the Fairfax County School District to the school’s admissions process. The district eliminated a notoriously difficult entrance exam and made other changes in an effort to boost student diversity. But Cao and the parents of the Coalition for TJ — who sued and took the case to the Supreme Court — argued the changes lowered standards and discriminated against Asian Americans.

Cao’s positions on education issues appeared to energize Republican parents at the polls on Saturday.

Candice van Schaick, 44, said she is homeschooling some of her eight children, who range from toddlers to a 19-year-old student – ​​as is Cao, a shared experience that prompted her to classify him as first.

“He seems to share a lot of the same values ​​as me,” said van Schaick, also a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School. “Being a father, a businessman, having served in the military and then pursuing a life with his family that seems consistent with the values ​​we are raising our children with.”

Tim Vermilion, a 49-year-old engineer who ranked candidates Dave Beckwith, Lawson and Cao in his top three, said on Saturday he needed to consider who could garner the most votes in November.

Vermilion said he felt “Trump fatigue.” A candidate with Cao’s background might appeal more to independent voters, he added, and “approaches immigration issues with a different perspective.”

Cao said he does not want to discuss any changes to the immigration system or pathways to citizenship until the border is secure. He also appealed to religious conservatives on issues such as abortion, saying he supported the reversal Roe vs. Wade and believes that abortion policy is best left to the states.

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, said in a recent interview that abortion could be a generic factor in a blue district like the 10th and it could be a motivating issue. Democrats to come to the polls.

“Republicans can’t be considered too conservative on social issues,” Coleman said. “And deer would be one of those things that wouldn’t drastically change things, but maybe help on the fringes of the Democrats.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement Sunday that Virginia voters “will reject Hung Cao’s toxic politics” and called Northern Virginia “Wexton country.” “.

In a statement, Wexton focused on her work in Congress to support the coronavirus relief and infrastructure bill, support victims of domestic violence and hold “the Chinese government accountable for its human rights atrocities. “. Wexton sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee as well as the Congressional Executive Committee on China, which monitors China’s human rights abuses of Uyghurs and other religious minorities; the district is home to a large population of Uyghur refugees.

“I look forward to continuing to travel to the new 10th District to meet with voters, listen to the needs of families, and speak to how crucial it is to defend this seat,” Wexton said.

Teo Armus contributed to this report.


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