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WASHINGTON, July 13 (Reuters) - A Republican who almost won his party's nomination for Virginia governor last month in a populist campaign that featured Confederate symbols said on Thursday he would mount a "vicious, ruthless campaign" to win a U.S. Senate seat next year.
The bid by Republican Corey Stewart would pit the blunt-speaking supporter of President Donald Trump against incumbent Senator Tim Kaine, who last year was running mate to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Virginia is a southern state that has turned increasingly Democratic.
"I'm going to run the most vicious, ruthless campaign to dethrone Tim Kaine in the United States Senate. It's time that Republicans take back that seat," Stewart told reporters in Woodbridge, Virginia, a Washington suburb.
Stewart, who said he was "Trump before Trump was Trump," nearly upset former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in the gubernatorial primary. The result shocked political analysts who had expected Gillespie to win easily.
Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, ran on a campaign that featured Confederate flags at rallies, calls for deportation of illegal immigrants and disdain for the Republican establishment.
Stewart is the first Republican to declare for the Senate race. Former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina and conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham are among those who have said they are weighing possible runs.
Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker called Stewart a "rubber stamp" for Trump. "We need a senator who will put working and middle-class Virginians first, and that's Tim Kaine," she said in a statement.
Kaine, who is in his first term, is a former Virginia governor and lieutenant governor. This week he said that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., may have committed treason when he agreed to meet last year with a Russian lawyer who might have damaging information about Clinton.
Virginia was once solidly Republican, but the party has not won a statewide race since 2009. The state has gone Democratic in three straight presidential elections.
A Quinnipiac University poll in April showed Kaine ahead of Fiorina and Ingraham by double-digit margins. The poll said that 57 percent of Virginia voters disapproved of how Trump was doing his job, versus 36 percent who approved. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)