Democrats campaign cautiously on January 6, threats to democracy

WASHINGTON-

Speaking last year on the House floor, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan angrily lamented the lack of bipartisanship after the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising and said Republican opposition to a commission of inquiry was a “slap in the face” to law enforcement officers. of the order attacked by then. -Supporters of President Donald Trump that day.

Ryan has moved more carefully this year as he runs for the US Senate in Ohio, a once-battleground state that has trended to the right in the Trump era. In a recent debate, his Republican opponent, JD Vance, accused Ryan of having an “obsession” with the insurrection and called the House committee’s Jan. 6 investigation a “political jab” at Trump.

“I don’t want to talk about this more than anyone else,” Ryan replied. “I want to talk about jobs. I want to talk about salaries. I want to talk about pensions… but, my God, you have to look into it.”

Ryan’s caution is a reflection of the political divide that persists nearly two years after the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill sparked by Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 presidential election. Many Republicans still falsely believe the vote count was rigged against Trump, and GOP lawmakers have repeatedly downplayed the violent attack, which left at least five dead, injured more than 100 police officers and sent lawmakers scrambling to save. their lives. Extensive reviews in key states confirmed Trump’s loss, while judges, including some Trump appointees, dismissed numerous lawsuits challenging the result and Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, called the claims false.

But the reluctance of some Democrats to talk about Jan. 6 on the campaign trail is an acknowledgment that voters are mostly focused on pocketbook issues, like gas prices and rising inflation, in a year half of period that is usually a referendum on the president in power. That dynamic has created a delicate balance for Democrats, especially those like Ryan who are running in more Republican-leaning areas or swing states.

“The public sees this as a thing of the past, while right now they’re dealing with inflation,” says Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who led focus groups on the Jan. 6 attack. If you can’t afford to feed his family or fill his tank with gas, says Luntz, “discussing something that happened two years ago isn’t likely to be high on your list.”

Still, some candidates are betting that voters will care.

Independent Evan McMullin, a former Republican who ran against Utah Sen. Mike Lee, has made the issue a central part of his campaign. In a debate this month, McMullin said Lee had committed a “betrayal of the American republic” after it was revealed that the Republican senator had texted White House advisers before the insurrection to find ways to Trump reversed his defeat. Lee demanded an apology, which McMullin did not offer, noting that he had voted with the majority of senators to certify the victory of Democrat Joe Biden.

McMullin also appeared with Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, at an event in Salt Lake City. Speaking to an audience that included supporters carrying signs reading “Country First,” the two men framed the midterm elections as a fight for democracy.

“If you’re Mike Lee, it’s still acceptable to say that Donald Trump is the future of the party and the leader of the party,” Kinzinger said.

In a debate earlier this month, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., defended her job as a member of the House panel on Jan. 6, saying it’s “the most important thing I’ve ever done or will ever do” professionally. . beyond her military service. Later, her campaign ran an ad showing images of her opponent, Republican Jen Kiggans, refusing to say whether Biden was fairly elected.

“I am not your candidate if you are on the side of the insurgents,” Luria said in the debate. “I am not your candidate if you prefer to have Donald J. Trump as president again.”

In Wisconsin, Democrat Brad Pfaff is fighting his opponent, Republican Derrick Van Orden, but is betting more people will vote against Van Orden if they find out he was among Trump supporters outside Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. An ad for Pfaff shows images of the violence and a veteran criticizing Van Orden.

Another ad in Wisconsin takes aim at Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who is running for re-election and has repeatedly downplayed the violence of the attack. “Ron Johnson is making excuses for the rioters who tried to bring down our government,” a police officer says in the ad, paid for by the Senate Majority PAC, which is associated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. , DN.Y.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says the issue of democracy has proven important among Democratic voters, particularly among older and suburban women who hold less favorable views of Trump. “They’re talking about it as a ballot issue,” Lake said.

John Zogby, also a Democratic pollster, agrees that the threat to democracy is a top issue for many Democrats. But he has seen less interest among independent voters who could decide the more competitive elections.

“I don’t know if it wins new voters for the Democrats,” says Zogby.

Like Ryan, the chairman of the House spending subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police, some Democrats who were outspoken about the insurgency while in Washington talked less about it on the campaign trail.

New Hampshire Rep. Annie Kuster and Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee spoke about their post-traumatic stress from being trapped on the House gallery when rioters tried to break down the doors on Jan. 6. Now in competitive reelection races, neither has focused much on attacking or threatening democracy, though both have mentioned it on occasion.

Kildee noted that police protected him that day in a debate against his opponent, Republican Paul Junge, as he spoke about his opposition to efforts to defund law enforcement. “People wearing uniforms saved my life on January 6,” Kildee said. “I know what the police can do.”

Responding to a question about supporting Ukraine, Kuster said she believes the United States needs to fight for democracy at home, too, and that she is a “survivor, witness, victim of the January 6 insurrection on our Capitol.”

Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, who was stuck with Kuster, Kildee and others that day, chose a different strategy in running for Senate in his liberal-leaning state. He talks about his experience often.

When asked about the committee’s work in a recent debate, Welch told the audience that “I was there” and that it was a violent assault on the peaceful transfer of power.

“A big theme in this election is for the American people to come together and fight to preserve that democracy that has served us so well,” Welch said.

His opponent, Republican Gerald Malloy, countered that criminals should be held accountable but Americans have a right to assemble peacefully.

“I’m not calling this an insurrection,” Malloy said.


Associated Press reporters Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Kathy McCormick in Concord, NH; and Will Weissert and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.

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