Former one-term Rep. Scott Taylor announced on Monday that he'd challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Warner next year, giving Virginia Republicans their first notable candidate—but one who comes with serious baggage.
Taylor, a former Navy SEAL and member of the state House, won a bid for Congress in 2016 to succeed GOP Rep. Scott Rigell, who retired from representing Virginia's 2nd Congressional District that year after just three terms in office. Taylor had in fact badly lost to Rigell in the 2010 primary, but his second go at the House went much better: He defeated Rep. Randy Forbes, who unsuccessfully carpetbagged into the 2nd after court-ordered redistricting, for the Republican nomination, then crushed a little-known perennial candidate, Shaun Brown, that fall. (Brown will make a surprise reappearance in a moment.)
Last year, Taylor faced a far tougher opponent in his first re-election campaign, fellow Navy veteran Elaine Luria, so he sought to ease his path by helping an independent get on the ballot—specifically one who might peel votes away from Luria: Shaun Brown. The ploy, however, boiled over into a massive scandal. Taylor's staff was exposed for forging signatures on behalf of Brown (who was booted off the ballot by a judge), and Democrats ran ads slamming Taylor's campaign for its skullduggery.
While Taylor’s staff acknowledged the congressman knew of his team’s plans to aide Brown, Taylor always denied any knowledge of his aides’ wrongdoing. He also dismissed the entire matter as a “nothing burger” and defended his staffers’ involvement in helping Brown with the least sincere of declarations: “That’s democracy.” But his pleas of innocence didn’t save him: Luria went on to oust Taylor by a 51-49 margin. Now that’s democracy.
And the whole mess is still percolating: In May, a special prosecutor indicted a former Taylor staffer on two counts of election fraud—and said that his investigation is still ongoing. Taylor, bizarrely, claimed vindication when the indictment was handed down, but this story could resurface at an time.
Taylor had been considering a rematch with Luria, but he opted for what, at least on paper, appears to be the tougher race: Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 49-45 in the 2nd District but lost to her 50-44 statewide. Warner was fortunate to survive a close contest during the 2014 GOP wave, scraping past Republican Ed Gillespie by just a 49-48 margin, but next year’s political climate almost certainly won’t be as good for Old Dominion Republicans who have to share a ticket with Trump.
Unless Trump turns out to be a whole lot more popular in Virginia in 2020 than he was in 2016, Taylor would somehow need to convince a considerable swath of voters eager to give Trump the boot that they also want to do the same for Warner. That would be a tall task even for the perfect candidate, which Taylor is not.