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General Assembly primaries: Sen. Emmett Hanger defeats Tina Freitas; Wendell Walker scores GOP nomination

Ballot marking stations stand ready for voters Tuesday at Grandin Court Elementary School, which participated in one of the primaries happening across the Roanoke Valley.
Polling station signs mix with sports registration signs Tuesday outside Grandin Court Elementary School.

Republican Emmett Hanger fended off a challenger from his right Tuesday to advance a step closer to another term in Virginia’s state Senate.

Hanger, 70, of Augusta, defeated Tina Freitas, the wife of Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, to win the Republican nomination. Hanger captured 11,122 votes, or 57% of the ballots. Freitas finished with 8,268 votes, or 43%. The 24th Senate District contest spotlighted the competing identities within the Republican Party, an issue playing out across the nation.

Hanger has a conservative voting record but because more Republican Party candidates are running to the right, he said, he’s become the new center. He viewed Tuesday’s primary as an important test of whether the middle could hold.

Freitas, 40, received the support of right-leaning conservative and libertarian groups. She ran an aggressive challenge against Hanger, who is one of the most powerful members of the General Assembly, where he has served for 32 years. A self-identified “liberty Republican,” Freitas focused her campaign on criticizing Hanger on a few issues: Medicaid, guns, abortion and taxes.

Hanger, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, was a key player in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to 400,000 low-income Virginians. Hanger viewed the expansion as a Christian imperative, but Republican activists have criticized those in the party who broke ranks to vote for it as betraying conservative principles.

Eaton, 56, is a farmer, owner of a cable company and former coal miner. He presented himself as the older and more experienced candidate. In campaign materials, he cited an underage alcohol possession conviction from Wampler’s days attending college in South Carolina to say Wampler was “immature.”

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