Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

These are the GOP candidates hoping to unseat Sen. Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine speaks while wearing a brown sport coat
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
Sen. Tim Kaine speaks during a 2022 Chamber RVA event.

Eight Republican challengers have lined up to face the Democrat.

Sen. Tim Kaine has held a U.S. Senate post since 2012. There was some speculation that the Democrat wouldn’t run this cycle, but he announced his intention in early 2023 to mount another bid to retain the seat.

Eight Republican candidates have entered their party’s primary to unseat the former vice presidential nominee.

Alex Keena, a VCU political science professor, called the GOP pack “diverse,” citing their range of experiences in policy, the private sector and the military.

But he also framed this race as being a “referenda” on national party politics.

“There really is no strategy for Republicans at this point. It's all about Trump,” Keena said. “I see these different candidates kind of posturing to the Trump base, even though immigration in Virginia is not really as big a concern as in other states.”

In 2018, Kaine beat Republican nominee Corey Stewart 57% to 41%. Kaine turned 66 in February, and if he wins this cycle and runs again in 2030, he’ll be 72.

Currently, Democrats hold sway over the upper chamber — by one seat.

“[Democrats] are not unaware that Tim Kaine is not going to be there forever,” said Brandy Faulkner, a Virginia Tech political science professor.

“There will be no shortage of people who are willing to try to step up and prove themselves. And we've already seen that, right? We've seen that even among folks in the [U.S.] House showing some ambition recently. And I think part of it is because they know that this is going to be a[n open] seat fairly soon.”

Early voting begins May 3 for the June 18 primary, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. The final day to cast an early ballot is June 15.

Republican challengers

Hung Cao

Cao is a retired Navy veteran who entered the race back in July 2023. He has questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

Cao's website lists border security, and "DEI/CRT" as issues he's keen to work on.

He ran an unsuccessful 2022 campaign against U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D) for the 10th Congressional District seat. As of December 2023, he has $528,000 on hand — about $100,000 more than the next closest Republican primary candidate.

Jonathan Emord

Emord’s an attorney who previously worked for the Federal Communications Commission during President Ronald Reagan’s term. He’s the author of several books focused on, among other things, authoritarianism and censorship.

His candidate website lists term limits for elected officials, border security and health care among his top legislative concerns.

According to the website, Emord lives in Clifton — a town in Fairfax County.

Gwen Hickman

Hickman’s an Alexandria personal injury and criminal attorney.

On her campaign website, she highlights education, national security, the Second Amendment and immigration as issues she’s poised to tackle.

Eddie Garcia

Garcia’s an Army veteran living in Arlington.

He’s worked as an Army congressional liaison and a congressional defense fellow, according to his LinkedIn profile, and is running on an "All American Agenda." Garcia wants to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. and promote "life at all stages."

Garcia also founded the app company MIL-VETS, focused on connecting "military spouses and veteran-owned small businesses" with a centralized marketplace for goods and services. The app was last updated in 2022; most of the social media accounts linked on its website direct visitors to Garcia’s campaign accounts.

Kimberly Lowe

Lowe lives in Roanoke and is a member of the National Rifle Association, as well as Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group founded in the 1990s. Lowe’s website indicates she’s held several policy positions — and currently serves as director of legislative education for American Family Alliance.

She also highlighted inflation, jobs, the border, the Second Amendment and governmental abuse of power as key issues for her campaign.

Scott Parkinson

Parkinson previously worked as chief of staff for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during his 2018 re-election bid — and later on the Republican’s failed run for the GOP presidential nomination. Parkinson also works as vice president of government affairs for the Club for Growth, a conservative small government group, according to The Associated Press.

Parkinson’s website includes discussion of limited government, as well as indictments of career politicians who are “completely disconnected from economic and cultural reality.”

Following the 2020 presidential election, Parkinson said there were “legitimate concerns” over election integrity.

Chuck Smith

Smith is a retired U.S. Navy officer who resides in Virginia Beach.

His campaign website said he intends to protect “life from conception until natural death,” and “review and redress” liberal policies enacted by Congress. Former State Sen. Amanda Chase is listed on the site under Smith’s "Endorsements" tab.

Smith has run several unsuccessful campaigns, including a bid for Virginia Beach City Council and state attorney general.

Ronald Vitiello

Vitiello worked his way up from a position as a Texas border agent to serve as deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Donald Trump administration. He also was acting head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2018 and ’19.

Vitiello lives in Alexandria.

Among his priorities are the economy, supporting law enforcement and "parents rights," according to his website.

Democratic incumbent

Tim Kaine

The incumbent is a well-known quantity across the commonwealth, having served in a variety of elected roles for more than 20 years. Kaine has been a member of Richmond City Council and served as mayor, as well as lieutenant governor and governor, before moving on to his federal position in 2012.

In 2016, Kaine unsuccessfully ran as vice president during Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

He’s also been vocal about having long COVID — its effects. He has not succeeded in creating legislation to help others with the illness.

Kaine’s married to “early voter” Anne Holton, an educator who was state Secretary of Education from 2014 to 2016.

At the end of 2023, Kaine had almost $8 million in his coffers, according to VPAP.

Dave Cantor has been an editor with VPM News since 2022, juggling daily digital and broadcast stories.