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Loyalty to Trump key focus of Virginia GOP Senate debate

Republican primary senatorial candidate Corey Stewart, right, gestures as E. W. Jackson, left, Del. Nick Freitas, center, listen during a debate at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Trump was a central focus of the hour-long debate, which pitted a polished young up-and-comer who has the backing of the establishment wing of the state party against an ultra-Trump supporter whose bomb-throwing style mirrors the president’s.

Stewart was fired from the Trump campaign in 2016 for leading an unauthorized protest at the Republican National Committee headquarters, where Stewart complained that national GOP leaders were not properly supporting Trump after a video surfaced in which he was heard bragging about groping women.

Stewart ran for the GOP primary last year on a platform heavily focused on preserving Confederate monuments and surprised most political watchers by narrowly losing to a much better funded candidate.

Freitas, a state House of Delegates member and former Green Beret who has attracted support from state party leaders, rejected Stewart’s suggestions that he disagreed with Trump’s agenda. But Freitas has previously said negative things about Trump before he became president and his overarching message to the crowd of about 200 at Liberty University on Thursday was less focused on the president and more about the need to limit government overreach.

"If that’s all it takes to get under your skin, you’ve got some major problems," he said.

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