RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Scott Parkinson, a former congressional staffer and adviser to Ron DeSantis and other Republican officials, announced plans Monday to seek the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia next year.
Parkinson, who works for the conservative economic policy group Club for Growth, told The Associated Press ahead of a formal announcement that frustration over pandemic-related school and business closures “changed his worldview” and pushed him to seek public office for the first time.
Parkinson said that Kaine, a fixture in Virginia politics known for his down-to-earth approach, is vulnerable because of his votes for key pieces of President Joe Biden’s agenda that have contributed to inflation now crushing the middle class.
“I think that there’s this perception that he’s a nice guy … and they don’t peel back the layers of the onion to see exactly how we got to where we are today,” Parkinson said. “And Tim Kaine has voted for all of it.”
Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate in 2016, has been in public office for nearly three decades, serving as Richmond’s mayor and later as the state’s lieutenant governor and governor. He was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and handily defeated a far-right challenger in 2018.
So far, no Democratic opponent has emerged to challenge Kaine, who firmed up his plans to seek a third term in January after speculation he might retire.
Kaine’s decision to run eased his party’s worries about the possibility of an open seat. He will be seen as having an edge in the must-win race for Democrats facing a tough Senate map in 2024. Though Virginia has been trending blue in recent decades, voters elected a slate of Republican statewide officials, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, in 2021.
Asked for comment, a Kaine spokeswoman referred to a statement the senator issued when he announced he was seeking re-election. In it, Kaine highlighted his work as a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, and he vowed to prioritize issues ranging from child care affordability to immigration reform, climate change, abortion rights, voting rights and national security.
Parkinson has spent more than 15 years working in Washington, D.C., including as a staffer for U.S. Sens. John Ensign, Ron Johnson and Marco Rubio and as executive director of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House Caucus. He was chief of staff to then-U.S. Rep. DeSantis and then served as deputy executive director of the DeSantis gubernatorial transition team in Florida.
Parkinson’s array of Republican connections will help him raise the money and reach the voters necessary to compete in what’s shaping up to be a crowded field seeking the party’s nomination, he said.
Parkinson plans to campaign on a promise to cap the growth of government spending and reduce taxation. He voiced support for doubling down on Trump-era tax cuts and rolling back government regulations “stifling American opportunity.”
“I’m terrified about what the future of the American economy looks like for my kids,” Parkinson said. “And so that will be a big, big element of our campaign, when we create a movement to rescue the middle class.”
Parkinson described himself as pro-life but declined to directly answer a question about what limits on abortion rights he thinks are most appropriate, including whether he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.
Asked if he believes the 2020 presidential election was free and fair, he expressed concerns about the accuracy of voter rolls. Parkinson said he would not describe the election as being stolen, as Trump falsely has, but believes there are “legitimate concerns” around the country about election integrity.
Parkinson, 40, is vice president of government affairs for the Washington-based Club for Growth, an influential conservative group advocating for lower taxes, limited government, school choice and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife and four children.
This story has been updated to remove an incorrect reference in a quote to Kaine playing the banjo.