Rep. Ben Cline. Courtesy of Cline campaign.

Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County, on Tuesday once again seized his party’s nomination in the Republican primary in Virginia’s 6th congressional district, fending off a challenge from Merritt Hale, a U.S. Navy veteran from Frederick County. 

By 9:15 p.m., Cline, who has served in Congress since 2019 and is vying for a third term, led by more than 82% of the votes, with 300 of 324 precincts reporting. He will face Democrat Jennifer Lewis in the Nov. 8 election. 

“I am so grateful to the Republican voters of Virginia’s 6th district who have asked me to continue fighting for life, liberty, and the Constitution as their nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives this November,” Cline said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing our campaign in the months ahead as we discuss the issues that matter most to voters and how we can work together to find real solutions to the challenges we face as a nation.”

Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that Cline’s victory in the primary sets him up for an easy win in November. “The 6th district is not very competitive, and the Republican nominee will normally win here – especially in a GOP-tilting year such as 2022,” Sabato said. 

Cline, 50, won the nomination in a recently redrawn district that now includes the city of Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties, encompassing the Northern Shenandoah Valley and running along the Interstate 81 corridor to Roanoke. 

A native of Stillwater, Okla., Cline moved to Virginia as a child. He grew up in Rockbridge County and graduated from the University of Richmond School of Law in 2007. He was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2001, where he served eight terms until he decided to run for Congress after Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County, announced his retirement. Cline had previously worked for Goodlatte as his chief of staff. 

On Capitol Hill, Cline is a member of the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative bloc within the House Republican Conference. After Democrat Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, Cline was one of 126 members of the House of Representatives to back a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court contesting the results of the election.

Cline’s stance on the presidential contest was one where he differed from Hale, 28, who told Cardinal News in a recent interview that in order to regain control of Congress, it would “require Republicans to move on from the 2020 presidential election that Trump still claims he won.” 

Merritt Hale. Courtesy of Hale campaign.

Hale and Cline also have different views about working with lawmakers from across the aisle. “I’m all for sticking to your guns and your morals on issues that matter, but in terms of economic policies we have to compromise. You’re never going to get anything done if you’re just going to be an obstructionist. Anyone can go in and vote no on everything,” Hale said in the interview.

But despite his ideological convictions – Hale has cast himself as a principled conservative and Second Amendment supporter who believes that life begins at conception – his decision to distance himself from Trump likely hurt his chances of unseating Cline in a district where the former president remains popular. In a similar challenge, Air Force veteran Dan Moy last month failed in his attempt to oust Rep. Bob Good, R-Bedford County, an uncompromising Trump supporter, at the GOP convention in the neighboring 5th congressional district. 

Hale turned to Twitter to congratulate Cline on his victory Tuesday evening. “I’m confident he’ll continue to be a conservative champion for our district,” he said of his opponent. “It’s time for our party to unite and make sure we capture majorities in the House and the Senate this November!”

Lewis, Cline’s opponent in November, is a New York native who works as a hospital liaison with the Charlottesville-based Region 10 Community Services Board. As the district’s only Democrat to submit the required paperwork for a candidate by last month’s deadline, the Waynesboro native became her party’s nominee without a convention or primary. 

Jennifer Lewis. Courtesy of the candidate.

Lewis said in an email Tuesday that she appreciates Hale for “bringing up important policy issues and legislation” with Cline during their primary race.

“We’ve had three-and-a-half years of Cline doing nothing for the folks of Virginia’s 6th congressional district. His ‘do-nothing’ legislative style has done nothing to help the people of the sixth,” Lewis said. “Cline refuses to support anything put forward by Democrats, even if it would benefit the folks of the 6th, (and) his party-line voting has fractured what true representation means. He can’t answer a single question without trashing our president. We need a leader who will bring us together, who will fight for the folks of the 6th, not their party.” 

The 6th congressional district.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.