RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican former Rep. Scott Taylor says he's running for U.S. Senate in Virginia, hoping to unseat Democrat Mark Warner in a state that's become increasingly hostile to the GOP.
Taylor kicked off his campaign Monday on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends," saying Virginia has a "leadership crisis" and needs a "fresh start in the Senate."
Taylor is an ex-Navy SEAL and state delegate who was once a fast-rising star in the Republican Party. But Taylor served only one term as a representative from Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, and was swept out by an anti-Trump wave last year.
His reelection effort also was clouded by his campaign staffers being accused of forging voter signatures to put a third-party "spoiler candidate" on the ballot. Taylor has maintained that he was aware of his staffers' effort to get a third candidate the ballot, but knew nothing of any wrongdoing.
Warner is a former Virginia governor and was first elected to the Senate in 2008. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has accused President Donald Trump of disrespecting U.S. allies and ingratiating himself with adversaries.
Once considered a key swing state, Virginia has become a reliable win for Democrats. Trump lost the state in 2016 and Democrats made large gains in recent state and federal elections. No Republican has won a statewide office since 2009 and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine defeated his GOP opponent last year by more than 15 percentage points.
But Taylor said in an interview with The Associated Press that the race is much closer than it appears at first blush. He said his military background and moderate record on social issues will help attract the state's suburban voters who have fled the GOP in the Trump era.
Taylor also said Warner is no longer the business-friendly moderate he used to be as governor and has used his spot in the Senate to mislead voters about the president's ties to Russia.
"He was a false prophet of Russia propaganda and the illusion of collusion," Taylor said.
The Warner campaign reacted to Taylor's announcement by wishing him luck in the GOP primary and pointing out that Warner has raised more than $7.4 million for his reelection campaign.
"Scott Taylor is an experienced campaigner, having run or explored running for five different offices in the past decade," Warner campaign manager Bruce Sinclair said.
No other Republicans have announced plans to run for the nomination.
Taylor's 2018 reelection campaign is still being investigated by a special prosecutor who has charged a campaign aide with false statements and election fraud.
Prosecutor Donald Caldwell said in May that "what actually happened within the campaign headquarters is still a subject of investigation due primarily to the lack of cooperation of key individuals with the (Virginia State Police) investigator."
Even if Taylor doesn't win, a strong showing against Warner could position him for a potential gubernatorial run in 2021. It's a path other Virginia politicians have used, including Warner. Taylor said Monday he has no intention to run for governor and is focused on winning next year's Senate race.