WASHINGTON – At least three Republicans running for the U.S. House attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and made their way toward the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection to stop Joe Biden’s election.
Countless other House Republican candidates are skeptics and deniers of the 2020 election lost by Donald Trump.
There are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, small-business owners and the most geographically, racially and culturally diverse group of Republicans seeking House seats in the modern era — many of whom, like Trump in 2016, are political newcomers who have never held elected office.
All told, the House GOP’s Class of 2022 midterm candidates includes a new generation of political outsiders, populists and some extremists who could bring an intensity to Capitol Hill. They would be an untested and potentially unruly majority if Republicans win the House in the Nov. 8 election.
“Trump inspires all of this,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist who was the long-serving spokesperson for former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
“There’s not a lot of shrinking violets,” Feehery said about the House Republican candidates. “Not a lot of people trying to be moderates. They’re warriors for their beliefs.”
Republicans are increasingly confident they will win control of the House, confronting Democrats on a widening map. The party in the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the president’s midterm, and Democrats are weighed down by Biden’s lagging approval ratings and voter unease over inflation’s grip on the economy.
In many ways, Republicans are reassembling the Trump coalition with a well-funded but unusual alliance of candidates reflecting his supporters: charismatic Trump-styled media stars, “America First” military veterans, women, minorities and what’s left of the GOP’s traditional conservatives.
“This is going to be the most diverse class of Republicans — ever — in every sense of the word,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former congressman from Florida. “What it means for governing is a big question mark.”
To be sure, some of the House Republican candidates are familiar with elected office or more moderate conservatives who have come up through the ranks of public service — like the former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, Allan Fung, the son of immigrants who is working to flip a seat opened by a Democratic retirement.
But the Republican class is likely to be defined by the Trump-styled newcomers.
Retired Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden traveled to Washington for Jan. 6 — though he insists he didn’t join the mob attack on the Capitol — and is considered a rising star poised to defeat Brad Pfaff for an open Wisconsin seat long held by Democrats.
Florida’s Cory Mills caught attention with a provocative campaign ad in which the former combat veteran, who was also in special operations and went on to be a Trump adviser at the Pentagon, boasts about his company’s riot gear that was used on Black Lives Matter protesters and various liberal groups.
Karoline Leavitt was not her party’s first choice to take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire, but Republican voters made the former Trump White House press aide, who questioned the 2020 election results, their nominee.
“She’s an election denier who believes the last election was stolen from Donald Trump,” Pappas said during their recent debate.
Leavitt, who recently said during a WMUR event that Biden is, in fact, “the legitimate president,” retorted that Pappas voted with Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “100% of the time.”
Unlike the Republican tea party class of 2010 that came to Congress to slash federal budgets or the 2018 Democrats who swept to power on the promise of good governance, the 2022 candidates appear less unified around a common policy agenda.
Instead, what many of the Republican recruits do share is Trump's rejection of the establishment and civic norms, an approach much like that of Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, that is transforming the party.
Across the country, the GOP candidates reflect Trump’s lasting influence and willingness to bring the far-right into the fold — as seen in Washington state after Joe Kent, a former Green Beret and CIA officer with a harrowing life story, advanced to the November general election over Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 attack.
“Kevin McCarthy and MAGA Republicans have worked overtime to nominate extremist candidates across the country,” said CJ Warnke, the communications director at House Majority PAC, an outside group aligned with Pelosi. "We look forward to voters rejecting their out-of-touch policies at the ballot box in November.”
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become House speaker if Republicans gain control, has been instrumental in recruiting the new class that could lift him to power.
Learning from the past elections, McCarthy reached deeper for candidates that better reflect the diversity of America, a turnaround from the 2018 election that left about a dozen Republican women and no Black Republicans in the House.
Among Republican incumbents and other candidates, there are 28 Black nominees, 33 Hispanics, 13 Asian Americans and three Native Americans, according to the National Republican Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm.
McCarthy has maintained a close if sometimes rocky relationship with the former president. In a speech this summer in South Carolina, he championed his far-flung recruits, many of whom have been endorsed by Trump. Since August, McCarthy has visited 34 states in support of Republican candidates and members.
“There’s not one place we are not going to play,” he vowed.
Not all those Republicans are party favorites. In fact, leaders tried to keep some of the more extreme Republican candidates off the ballot.
More than $11 million was spent during the primary campaigns to prop up favored GOP candidates in Virginia, Texas, California and other states by the Conservative Leadership Fund, the outside group aligned with McCarthy.
The leadership fund achieved its preferred outcome in most of those races, though there were setbacks. In North Carolina, Trump-styled Sandy Smith — she tweeted on Jan. 6, "In DC fighting for Trump! Just marched from the Monument to the Capitol! — trounced the party favorite.
McCarthy campaigned early with JR Majewski, another Republican nominee who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The party has stuck with the Ohio candidate after The Associated Press reported that he misrepresented his military record.
During the primaries, Democrats promoted some of the more far-right candidates, helping elevate Trump-backed John Gibbs in Michigan, in a controversial counteroffensive strategy designed to push centrist and independent voters away from Republicans.
But Republicans are digging deep into Democratic strongholds of New England, Florida and notably South Texas, where three Latina candidates with tough border control positions reflect a dramatic re-sorting of traditional party allegiances, sounding alarms among Democrats.
"The moment reflects where the party is right now — Republicans are becoming a more broadly tented party that is making inroads in all types of communities,” said CLF spokesperson Calvin Moore.
“It’s a whole cadre of new voices putting forward their vision of what it means to put the country back on track.”
But recruiting and electing candidates and governing the country are different skill sets.
If Republicans win the House, "they're going to have to teach these guys the value of regular order and the value of working together as a team,” Feehery said. “And that’s not going to come naturally.”
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow the AP’s election coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.