A sheriff who threatened to deport his boyfriend. A man who defends the term “legitimate rape.” Another who sounds like Donald Trump. And a woman who said she was Trump before Trump. Meet your GOP hopefuls for the 2016 election.
These congressional candidates have already made names for themselves with their controversial, if not incendiary, comments. If they win in November, they could become the next Steve King or Louie Gohmert or Michele Bachmann.
They’re all running for open seats, and while there isn’t a lot of available polling on their races, all four districts are considered top targets by both parties. So keep an eye on them.
Claudia Tenney, New York
A member of the New York State Assembly, Claudia Tenney is running for the 22nd District seat. Most available polls show a tight race between her, Democratic candidate Kim Myers and third-party candidate Martin Babinec.
Tenney has made offensive comments about Native American tribes in the district. She has repeatedly questioned the ancestry of Ray Halbritter, the leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, calling him “spray tan Ray.”
“I know for a fact he has a spray tan,” she told the Oneonta Daily Star in 2015.
Tenney also threw some shade on her Democratic opponent’s work history last week, calling her “more of a housewife.” For the record, Myers has worked in her family’s business, Dick’s Sporting Goods; started her own small business; and served 18 years on the local board of education.
On her campaign website, Tenney boasts about being “consistently ranked as the top conservative legislator in New York.” She described herself as “a Donald Trump and Ted Cruz before they came on the scene,” when asked to compare her ideology to that of the GOP presidential primary field.
“I think I have the populism of a Donald Trump, but I’m a constitutionalist conservative like Ted Cruz,” she said.
In a 2014 Fox Business interview, Tenney argued that women don’t need “some government regulation” to close the gender wage gap. She also suggested that a minimum wage is unnecessary.
“The last thing we need is government to come in and regulate us more,” she said. “We shouldn’t even have a minimum wage. At this point, the market should be determining what the wage is.”
The 22nd District is currently represented by Republican Richard Hanna, who is retiring.
Paul Babeu, Arizona
Paul Babeu, an anti-immigrant sheriff in the vein of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is running in Arizona’s 1st District.
Babeu rose to fame as a congressional candidate in 2012, when news broke that he had allegedly threatened to deport his former boyfriend Jose Orozco, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, if Orozco went public with their relationship. The ensuing scandal forced Babeu to end his House bid and resign as Arizona co-chair for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
When Babeu ran a private boarding school in Massachusetts from 1999 to 2001, state authorities investigated the facility on allegations of child abuse. He denied those accusations, but boasted about the school’s abusive practices in a home video. In addition, one of his sisters claimed he had an “inappropriate” relationship with a 17-year-old student. Babeu has also denied that allegation and attacked his sister’s credibility.
Babeu has been the sheriff of Pinal County since 2009. Like Arpaio, he has engaged in fear-mongering about undocumented immigrants, portraying them as criminals “heading to your neighborhoods.”
In 2014, he leaked details about the arrival of a bus of undocumented children from Central America and rounded up protesters to create a scene. The Arizona Republic’s editorial board pilloried Babeu for the incident, calling him “Sheriff Showboat” and “a self-obsessed camera hog.”
“Regardless where people stand on the federal policies responsible for this tragic march of Central American children to the U.S. border, taking out political frustrations on these kids is just cruel,” the editorial board wrote. “But it is a higher order of cruelty — and carelessness — for a peace officer to use his elected office to play on anger and fear.”
The 1st District’s current congresswoman, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, is not seeking re-election, choosing instead to challenge Republican John McCain for his Senate seat.
Danny Tarkanian, Nevada
Danny Tarkanian is now running to represent Nevada’s 3rd District, but the businessman (and son of the late UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian) is a perennial candidate, having made four prior attempts at elected office.
As a Senate candidate during the tea party wave of 2010, Tarkanian received the endorsement of the Minutemen, a militia group famous for holding armed, anti-immigrant protests along the border. One of his campaign ads back then boasted that conservative commentator Glenn Beck had called him “a tea party radical.”
Tarkanian has advocated for a ban on abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and for stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood. He touts his A rating from the National Rifle Association, declaring, “I oppose any and all efforts to register guns and their owners, and I oppose any and all efforts to restrict the sale or ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens.”
And like GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, Tarkanian wants to build a “strong wall” between the U.S. and Mexico and to make “America respected and feared again, no apologies,” according to his campaign website.
The 3rd District is now represented by Republican Joe Heck, who is bidding for retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s seat this year.
Jason Lewis, Minnesota
As a conservative radio host, Jason Lewis has made a treasure trove of controversial comments on air. He continues to defend them even as he’s running for Minnesota’s 2nd District.
In 2012, Lewis stood up for then-Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who had just made his own notorious comments about abortion and “legitimate rape.” Lewis warned his audience that if abortion is allowed in cases of rape, “then every consensual sex act will turn into a rape — and that we see all the time.”
“Rape is rape if it’s legitimately rape,” Lewis continued. “There, I sound like the candidate. Of course rape is rape. The question is whether it’s rape or not. I think the fundamental question is, was there force involved — and no does mean no. I happen to side with, quote unquote, the feminists on that. It doesn’t matter how much of a tease she may be ― or he may be, I guess, if the woman has the power in the relationship ― if the answer is no, it’s no. I don’t know how you get around that point.”
That same year, Lewis called female voters who were concerned about abortion rights “ignorant” and “non-thinking.”
“I never thought in my lifetime where’d you have so many ... single women who would vote on the issue of somebody else buying their diaphragm. This is a country in crisis. Those women are ignorant in, I mean, the most generic way,” he said. “You’ve got a vast majority of young single women who couldn’t explain to you what GDP means. You know what they care about? They care about abortion. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about ‘The View.’ They are non-thinking.”
While guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s radio show in 2009, Lewis suggested that President Barack Obama was the equivalent of Mussolini and compared his economic recovery policies to “Italian fascism.” He also suggested that voters had chosen Obama out of “white guilt.”
“People were patting themselves on the back for voting for a black president,” Lewis said. “That was fashionable. It was the ‘in’ thing to do and ‘look how tolerant I am, look how hip I am.’”
The 2nd District is currently represented by Republican John Kline, who chose not to run again.
The story has been updated with Claudia Tenney’s comment about her Democratic opponent.