GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart complained at a news conference in Washington on Thursday that Republican leaders were trying to stop him from winning the nomination in the three-way primary.

He cited as evidence some facts from a federal lawsuit over ballot access that longshot former GOP candidate Ivan Raiklin filed Tuesday against the Republican Party of Virginia and the commonwealth.

“He says that party leaders approached him and said that they wanted him to drop out and support my opponent Nick Freitas,” Stewart said at a news conference outside the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Freitas, a state lawmaker from Culpeper, and minister E.W. Jackson of Chesapeake are vying with Stewart in the June 12 primary for the chance to face Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Raiklin said in an interview Thursday that Stewart’s description of the lawsuit was “fairly accurate” but “somewhat of a stretch.”

“No, he never said drop out,” Raiklin said of a conversation he had with state GOP Chairman John Whitbeck.

But Raiklin said he did get a sense during a March 29 phone call with Whitbeck that the party chairman favored Freitas. “That’s how I received it, absolutely,” Raiklin said.

Raiklin’s lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the state GOP illegally made errors in the process for certifying whether he obtained enough voter signatures to get on the primary ballot. He also alleges that the Virginia Department of Elections should have heard his appeal and challenges the constitutionality of a state law related to verifying valid signatures.

A statement of facts in Raiklin’s lawsuit alleges that Whitbeck called Raiklin on March 29 to tell him he didn’t make the ballot, and “urged Raiklin that his next call after hanging up with Whitbeck should be to Delegate Nick Freitas.”

Stewart’s camp has seized on that as evidence that Whitbeck tried to pressure Raiklin, a former Green Beret in the Army, into endorsing Freitas.

Raiklin said he told Whitbeck during the call he was disappointed the party didn’t certify him for the ballot. During the discussion, Whitbeck asked him if he supported any of the other candidates, and Raiklin said he would be in favor of a Green Beret, meaning Freitas, who is also a Green Beret. And it was after that, Raiklin said, that Whitbeck said he should call Freitas to offer support.

In hindsight, Raiklin said, he wishes he would have not included information about his call with Whitbeck in the lawsuit because “that is not my focus.”

The point of his lawsuit, he said, is to educate people about flaws in the process and how the party has final say in who gets on a primary ballot.

The Republican Party of Virginia issued a statement Tuesday saying “no such conversation happened.” The party declined further comment Thursday on the call. Raiklin will livestream a statement addressing his dispute with the party at 10 a.m. Friday from James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County.

As far as other evidence that the Republican establishment was trying to stop him, Stewart cited an anonymous source in a Dec. 7 Washington Post story who was described as being “familiar with the thinking at the NRSC,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The source said national party leaders say, “We don’t care if we can beat Kaine or not. [Stewart is] an embarrassment,” according to the story.

Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, has been running longer than Freitas and Jackson, having announced his run about a month after narrowly losing to Ed Gillespie in the 2017 GOP primary for governor.

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pwilson@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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