Virginia Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, has officially announced he will run a write-in campaign this fall after being denied access to the ballot due to late paperwork.
This week, the State Board of Elections rejected a GOP request to allow Freitas to appear on the ballot despite two missed filing deadlines. The decision left Republicans with no nominee in the strongly conservative 30th House District in a pivotal election year with control of the General Assembly at stake.
In a news release, Freitas said the elections board’s decision amounted to a “partisan power grab” by appointees of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
“The conservative majority in the 30th deserves an advocate fighting for them in the General Assembly and does not deserve to be disenfranchised by Richmond bureaucrats,” Freitas said.
Northam’s office declined to comment.
The GOP paperwork errors left Democrat Ann Ridgeway, a Madison County activist making her first run for public office, as the only candidate on the ballot. The district covers Madison and Orange counties and portions of Culpeper County.
The late filings created a weekslong crisis for Freitas, a libertarian-leaning former Green Beret who has served in the House since 2016 and is widely thought to have aspirations for higher office. In an attempt to force election officials to let him on the ballot, Freitas withdrew his candidacy last month and was swiftly renominated by a local GOP committee. Republicans thought they could use a provision in state law that allows parties to replace nominees who withdraw or die, but the elections board didn’t accept that theory.
To push back against the notion that the cash- and labor-intensive write-in effort will drain resources from other GOP races in more competitive districts, Freitas said he would not accept any money from the Republican caucus.
The Freitas campaign has said it has secured $500,000 for a write-in campaign. The details of his July fundraising have not yet been disclosed through official campaign finance reports. Freitas said he has brought on several consultants who were involved in U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s successful 2010 write-in campaign in Alaska.
The last successful write-in campaign in Virginia was in 1989, when Jackie Stump, the head of the Virginia arm of United Mine Workers, used union organizing to defeat Democratic Del. Donald McGlothin Jr. in Southwest Virginia amid an uproar over a labor strike.
In the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 5, the Freitas campaign will have to educate Republican voters on the different process they’ll have to follow when they go the polls. Instead of being able to check a box for the Republican, they’ll have to write out Freitas’ name and get the spelling close enough that vote-counters will be able to understand the choice.
The write-in announcement comes a day after a heated internal GOP debate over how to handle the situation spilled over onto social media. Christian Heiens, a former Freitas legislative aide, took to Facebook on Thursday evening to accuse House GOP leaders of trying to scuttle a Freitas write-in campaign and pursue a lawsuit to get another Republican on the ballot.
In a response to the post, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, indicated he wasn’t entirely convinced the write-in campaign was the best option.
“Oh YOU must be the mastermind behind the scenes who would rather run a write-in campaign than try to get a Republican on the ballot in an otherwise safe district when control of the state government is at stake,” Gilbert said.
As recently as Thursday, Republicans in the district were circulating a list of possible candidates who could potentially run instead of Freitas.
Republicans had brought in a D.C. law firm to work on the case in anticipation of a possible lawsuit, but Friday’s announcement appeared to make that prospect moot.
In a news release, House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said his caucus had explored all legal options, including trying to swap in a replacement candidate. After talking with members of the local GOP nominating committee, Cox said, “it’s clear to us that there is widespread support for Nick to run.”
“Nobody fights like Nick Freitas, and I fully expect him to win. He has our full support,” Cox said.
In a text message, Gilbert said Freitas still has strong support from his local nominating committee.
“We are fully on board with everything we can do to help him return to Richmond,” Gilbert said. “If anybody can do this it is Nick Freitas.”
In an interview Friday morning with conservative radio host John Fredericks, Freitas said he was willing to step aside if it gave the party a better chance to win. He said the party decided a lawsuit, which could’ve dragged into September, wasn’t worth the risk with no guarantee of success.
Freitas said he had no excuses for the paperwork issues and understands people are frustrated. He insisted the situation would only make him campaign harder.
“Honestly, all it’s done is made me mad,” Freitas said. “I’m not going to pretend that it’s an ideal situation. But we’re going to take a bad situation and make them wish they never did this.”
Democrats seem to be relishing the unforced error.
“Freitas’ flub will force Republicans to divert crucial time and money toward an impossible write in-campaign — diverting their limited resources from a dozen other vulnerable candidates,” said Matt Harringer, a spokesman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “His incompetence is going to cost Republicans this seat and the House.”
Former Democratic Del. Bob Brink, the chairman of the elections board, declined to comment on Freitas’ accusation that partisan politics drove the outcome.
“The overwhelming majority of filers get their papers in on time,” Brink said Tuesday as the board declined to allow Freitas on the ballot.