In an exclusive interview with The Bull Elephant, former 2014 U.S. Senate candidate Shak Hill has revealed he intends to run for the GOP nomination to replace Sen. Tim Kaine next year, in the unfortunate event that Kaine is elevated to the post of Vice President.
Hill joins an intriguing field of actual, potential, and rumored candidates positioning for a possible run.
First out of the gate was Del. Jimmie Massie (R-Henrico), who began to quietly spread the word that he intended to seek to replace Kaine immediately after the Republican Party’s state committee made its controversial decision designating a primary for the nomination of 2017 candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. Massie is a personable and gregarious presence, with deep ties to Richmond-area insiders and House leadership. Massie’s chief advantage in the race at the moment appears to be a good ability to raise money (and to self-fund, as necessary).
Campaigning for a seat that would only open up if the national Republican ticket fails can be dangerous. Recognizing the risk of being perceived to benefit from his party’s failure, Del. Massie has made a point of publicly supporting and campaigning for the Trump/Pence ticket over the last couple of months.
Next comes Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Numerous reports indicate that Brat is considering a 2017 run, if the seat opens up. Outside of a relatively small band of malcontents whose gravy trains were derailed when Brat defeated Eric Cantor in 2014, Brat is enormously popular among Republicans in his district and statewide, a fact not lost upon Brat. As an incumbent who would not be up for re-election until 2018, Brat has a free shot at a 2017 race: there is very little downside if he loses, as he’ll continue to keep his 7th District seat. We understand Rep. Brat continues to mull the possibility of a run, but that he will not comment publicly unless the need for a GOP nominee actually materializes.
Entrepreneur and former Lieutenant Governor candidate Pete Snyder is also rumored to be mulling a Senate run. Snyder did little to tamp down on speculation that he might run for Governor in 2017, and indeed seemed to welcome any attention in that regard. This has led to intense speculation among political observers that Snyder’s announcement last week that he was strongly backing gubernatorial frontrunner Ed Gillespie was a way of forming a tacit alliance for a possible Senate bid. (Contrary to the most fevered speculation, there is no “deal” between Snyder and Gillespie to back each other for their respective nominations, as such an arrangement presents little advantage (and only risk) to Gillespie. Instead, should Snyder actually be considering a run, his bear hug of Gillespie is designed to closely associate himself with Gillespie’s success, in the hopes of giving him a head start on November 9).
We’ve also heard speculation about two popular and establishment-oriented Northern Virginia pols as candidates for Senate. First is Rep. Barbara Comstock. Sources close to Comstock have indicated, repeatedly, that the 10th District Congresswoman has no intention of a 2017 or 2018 Senate run, but the speculation continues given that Comstock, like Brat, would continue in Congress, win or lose. Moreover, if Comstock secures a healthy re-election victory over her out-of-state opponent this cycle—against what is perceived to be a strong Trump headwind in her district—then such a demonstration of electoral prowess could make Comstock an attractive candidate to finally win for the Republicans statewide. Thus, even if she currently disclaims any intention of running, don’t count her out yet, as there will be a lot of well-heeled establishment types who will likely urge Comstock to throw her hat in the ring.
Finally, a rumor floating around Fairfax is that former 11th District Rep. Tom Davis has tired of private life, and is actively considering a return to electoral politics, if the opportunity were to present itself. Such a run would be intriguing, as no one has a better handle on the moderate Northern Virginia business community than Davis, who would capitalize on such ties to create a fundraising juggernaut. The idea of a Davis candidacy would roil most conservatives, though. Davis, more than any other candidate, would therefore likely welcome a crowded field in which a plurality of votes could decide the nominee.
And now, Shak Hill. Hill, a former Air Force officer, mounted a grassroots-driven insurgency campaign in 2014 against a well-funded, well-managed and determined Ed Gillespie. It was Hill’s first attempt at prominent elective office, and given the circumstances, Hill’s underfunded campaign can probably be viewed as having outperformed. (Gillespie went on to nearly upset Sen. Mark Warner, to the surprise of most, but not all, observers).
But that was in a convention setting, where Hill’s style would enjoy a natural advantage over Gillespie. In a state-run open primary, where the person with the highest vote total (not necessarily a majority) can take the nomination, it is not clear that Hill will be able to match the resources of some of the other possible candidates, which will put him at a distinct disadvantage. A lot can happen, though, between now and the June 2017 primary…no one has this wrapped up, and Hill is likely banking on a traditional conservative resurgence pulling him across the finish line in first place.
Here is the text of TBE’s exclusive interview with Hill:
TBE: How did you decide to consider a run for Senate in 2017 if Kaine’s seat should become vacant?
Shak Hill: First, I am focused on the next 35 days and working hard to elect Donald Trump. But I also think we need to be prepared for next year and the possibly of an open Senate seat. I have spoken with Ed Gillespie and he is adamant that he will not run for Senate next year under any circumstances. I am confident about running for Senate because, one, I have a strong following across the state, and two, I am the only conservative who has expressed an interest in running.
TBE: Some people think Barbara Comstock would make a strong candidate for Senate. Jimmie Massie has expressed an interest in running and some want Dave Brat to run for Senate. Also, Tom Davis is rumored to be considering a run.
Shak Hill: Barbara Comstock has said she has no interest in running and she is not a conservative. Jimmie Massie and Tom Davis aren’t either. Their voting record tells a much different story. I am the only conservative, non-establishment, candidate. Dave Brat won’t talk about running until the seat is open but he is not as well known across the state as I am. I campaigned all across the state in 2014 when I ran against Ed Gillespie for the Senate nomination. Dave Brat beat Cantor but in reality Cantor beat Cantor. Brat has never run for statewide office.
I was the co-chair for Cruz in Virginia and made appearances around the state for him, getting to know more conservatives. I also supported Carly Fiorina. I am close to Ted Cruz and will ask for his support.
TBE: One criticism of you is you would have a difficult time raising money.
Shak Hill: If we have an open Senate seat in 2017, we will have the only Senate race in the nation. Also, it could be a race that determines the balance of the Senate. This means money will pour into Virginia to support the Republican nominee. There will be no problem raising money next year.
TBE: What do you bring to the race for Senate?
Shak Hill: I graduated from the Air Force Academy and spent 9 years as an Air Force pilot, including combat missions during Desert Storm. I have run my own business and I know what it takes run a small business. I’ve had my convictions throughout my life. I am completely pro-life, and I walk the walk. When my wife was pregnant with our second child she developed a rare bone cancer and was encouraged to abort the pregnancy. We wouldn’t even consider it. Jake is now 23 years old and is proudly serving in the Army, protecting our freedoms. He is the fourth generation to do so. My wife and I have been foster parents for 46 children and adopted a sibling group of 4 children.
I am so serious about this run for office I have given up my business and my license so I can concentrate on this run for Senate. I have turned over all of my business to my wife.
TBE writers Jeanine Martin and Steve Albertson contributed to this report.