If Republicans are supposed to be running away from President Trump in the aftermath of the latest Russia-related developments, Corey Stewart didn't get the memo.
The Virginia Republican, currently Prince William County Board of Supervisors chair, formally announced he was running against Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., by tying himself tightly to the president.
"I've always said that I was Trump before Trump was Trump," Stewart said in a Facebook Live event launching his candidacy Thursday. "I speak my mind, and sometimes it gets me in trouble."
Stewart called Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, "the leading obstructionist against Trump's America First agenda" and dismissed the Russia probe as "a bunch of bollocks" — just days after Donald Trump Jr. shared an email thread describing the Russian lawyer he was meeting with as offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
"It's time that we have a United States senator who's going to support the president, not try to obstruct his way," Stewart said. "We currently have a United States senator in Tim Kaine who is doing everything in his power to stop the president of the United States from making the economy great again, from bringing back jobs, from reforming healthcare and from making America great again."
"I am going to stand by the president of the United States, and we are going to win this campaign," he added.
Trump performed extremely well in Southwestern Virginia but lost the state in November due to a poor performance in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. A similar breakdown occurred earlier this year when Stewart lost the Republican gubernatorial race by a surprisingly narrow margin to the heavily favored, establishment-backed Ed Gillespie.
While Stewart faces an uphill battle against Kaine given Virginia's current political climate, when it comes to hugging Trump, he isn't exactly an anomaly. The Alabama special election to fill the Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early Trump loyalist, for the remainder of his term is becoming a referendum on who is the truest supporter of the president.
The super PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is supporting incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., in the Aug. 15 GOP primary with ads portraying his main opponent as disloyal to Trump. One spot juxtaposes Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a conservative member of the Freedom Caucus, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as it plays his criticisms of Trump.
"I don't think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says," Brooks is shown saying in a television interview in the ad. "A lot of people who have supported Donald Trump, they're going to regret having done so."
"Being anti-Trump in Alabama will hurt Mo Brooks," a spokesman for the McConnell super PAC told the Washington Examiner earlier this month. Brooks endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the primaries.
Trump won the Alabama primary last year, beating Cruz by 22.3 points. He went on to carry the state in November, receiving 62.1 percent of the vote — beating Clinton by nearly 28 points, a bigger margin of victory than Mitt Romney over former President Barack Obama in 2012.
Brooks fought back with an ad in which he promised to filibuster any spending bill that doesn't fund the president's proposed border wall, saying "even some establishment Republicans are blocking the way." The segment opens with a clip of Trump saying in his own campaign announcement, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best."
"I'll even read the King James Bible [on the Senate floor] until the wall is funded," Brooks said, adding with a chuckle, "And you know what? Washington could benefit from that." He concluded by saying, "We're going to build that wall, or you'll know the name of every Republican who surrenders to the Democrats to break my filibuster."
The congressman has also pushed back against claims he didn't support Trump in the general election. The president has so far remained neutral despite lobbying from party leaders. "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore is the third candidate in the Republican primary. Sessions last won the seat with over 90 percent of the vote.
Even some Republicans have predicted that the party may begin to abandon Trump over Russia and legislative paralysis, with one national GOP strategist pointing to House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy's recent criticism of how the White House has handled the former.
"He's one of the truly good guys in Congress — one with a real moral compass not based on his political views," the strategist said of Gowdy, R-S.C. "If Trump loses him, it's going to be a long few years for him. He opens the door for a lot of others to follow."
Yet there are still Republicans like Stewart, who are not only running on Trump's platform but also on his temperament. Stewart chastised former President George H.W. Bush for promising a "kinder, gentler nation" than his predecessor Ronald Reagan and vowed "to run the most vicious, ruthless campaign to dethrone Tim Kaine."
"There's an appetite for a Republican fighter," Stewart said, echoing one of Trump's main appeals during the primaries. "They're looking for a vicious, ruthless, Republican, conservative fighter." He mentioned the Ultimate Fighting Championship not long after Trump retweeted a wrestling image depicting him taking down CNN.
Trump supporters maintain that this is still more reflective of the overall mood inside the GOP.
"We're not going to comment on any specific race at this time, but certainly there has been ample polling to reflect the overwhelming support that President Trump has among Republicans nationwide and the powerful momentum behind his leadership to Make America Great Again," said Erin Montgomery, spokeswoman for the Trump-aligned super PAC America First Action.