WASHINGTON — Retired Navy combat veteran Hung Cao, who ran an energetic but unsuccessful campaign last year for a blue-leaning northern Virginia U.S. House seat, has set his sights on the U.S. Senate, announcing Tuesday that he's seeking the 2024 Republican nomination to challenge Democrat Tim Kaine.
A Vietnamese immigrant who spent 25 years in the Navy, including service in combat zones around the world, Cao pledged to be a “fighter” at a time when he said the country had taken a “dark turn.”
“We are losing our country. You know it. But you also know you can’t say it. We’re forced to say that wrong is right,” he said in a video announcement that took aim at President Joe Biden.
Cao will join an increasingly crowded field of Republican contenders — at least eight other candidates have filed paperwork — aiming to run next year against Kaine, who so far faces no primary opponent.
A fixture in Virginia politics, Kaine announced his plans to seek a third term in January after some speculation he might retire. His 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.
Although Virginia has been trending blue in recent decades, voters elected a slate of Republican statewide officials in 2021.
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.
Cao graduated from the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria before attending the United States Naval Academy. He was commissioned as a special operations officer and went on to serve with SEAL teams and special forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia before retiring at the rank of captain, according to his campaign biography. He also earned a masters degree in physics and attended fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He lives in Purcellville in northern Virginia with his wife, April, and their five children.
In his campaign announcement, Cao said his family fled Vietnam in the 1970s and spent a few years in Africa before immigrating to the U.S., “the most generous country on Earth.”
Without mentioning Kaine, Cao pledged to tackle the issues of illegal immigration, the spread of fentanyl and crime “destroying our cities and communities” while criticizing what he characterized as the politicization of the Justice Department, including the indictment of former President Donald Trump.
“I've been all over the world. Believe me when I tell you: If America fails, there's nowhere else to go,” he said.
In a statement that highlighted policy positions Cao staked out in his run against Jennifer Wexton, Virginia Democrats called him a “failed candidate” and “anti-choice extremist” who is too far right to appeal to the state's electorate. They noted that he celebrated news of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election in an interview with a local news outlet. Cao also expressed opposition to aid for Ukraine in his run last year.
“Voters in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District already rejected Hung Cao in his bid for the U.S. House, and I can assure you he’s too extreme for the U.S. Senate," Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker said in a statement.
The statement also said that given the size of the field, Republicans were headed for a “messy and brutal primary.”
Kaine's campaign announced last week raising over $2 million in the year's second quarter and ending the period with $6.3 million cash on hand — about $5.7 million more than the whole GOP field combined, according to campaign finance records.
Kaine looks forward to “running on his record of delivering for hardworking Virginians against anyone that may win the GOP nomination next year,” campaign spokesperson Arif Hasan said in a statement Tuesday.