UPDATE: 7:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday ― The National Republican Campaign Committee removed the language pointing to Jones’s sexual orientation on Tuesday night following HuffPost’s report, no longer referring to her female partner. The photo of Jones and her partner remains on DemocratFacts.
“It was included as a factual statement but we removed it because her orientation has nothing to do with her being a Washington, D.C., carpetbagger who supports closing local military bases in TX-23 that will cost thousands of jobs,” NRCC spokesperson Bob Salera said.
The original story appears below.
The congressional GOP’s campaign arm is asking other Republican and conservative groups to attack Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democratic candidate for a key swing House seat in Texas, for being gay.
A National Republican Campaign Committee website outlining its preferred attacks on candidates instructs outside groups to include reminders of Jones’s sexual orientation in digital and television advertising and mailers, highlighting an image of Jones with her partner and the talking point that “Jones and her female partner lived and worked near Washington, DC, not Texas” before Jones ran for Congress.
Democrats and gay rights advocacy groups blasted the instructions as homophobic.
“These personal, homophobic, and transphobic attacks shows how shameless and low Tony Gonzales and the NRCC are willing to go in the race for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District,” said Rebecca Marques, the Texas state director at the Human Rights Campaign. “It also shows how shallow their case is against a formidable veteran candidate of color and member of the LGBTQ community.”
“It’s disturbing, but not surprising, that the House Republican campaign arm thinks it’s acceptable to run a gutter campaign of bigotry and homophobia against Gina and her family,” said Robyn Patterson, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s national press secretary. “The people of South and West Texas are better than these attacks and the shameless Washington operatives who wrote them. We’re confident Texans will send this tough fighter and veteran to Congress in November.”
The NRCC did not respond to a request for comment.
Jones, a 39-year-old former Air Force captain who fought in the Iraq War, is running in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which sprawls along the U.S.-Mexico border from suburban San Antonio to just outside of El Paso. A longtime swing seat, the district has flipped parties four times since 2006. In 2018, Jones lost to incumbent GOP Rep. Will Hurd by the excruciatingly narrow margin of just 1,150 votes.
Hurd announced his retirement last year. Jones is now in a tight race with Gonzales, a former Navy cryptologist who narrowly won the GOP primary with the backing of Hurd, House Republican leaders and President Donald Trump.
The NRCC website, DemocratFacts.org, is a way for the committee to communicate its preferred messaging to Republican super PACs and other conservative groups without running afoul of campaign finance laws barring direct coordination. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posts similar information on its site, and candidates in both parties have used the tactic in the past.
But of the dozens of candidates covered by DemocratFacts, Jones appears to be the only one pictured with their spouse or partner. Others are typically shown making unflattering faces or posing with political figures the NRCC hopes to link candidates to, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Outside groups typically use the images in attack ads and mail pieces.
And while the site attacks other candidates for having lived in or spent time in Washington, it typically does not mention the people they lived with there.
It’s unclear how effective attacks on Jones’ sexuality would be in the district. Hurd was a supporter of the Equality Act, which would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the past, some Republicans have suggested using same-sex marriage as a wedge issue to peel off Hispanic Catholics from Democrats, and the 23rd is nearly 70% Hispanic. But a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2019 found 58% of Hispanics supported same-sex marriage.
“NRCC is stuck using 2004-style scare tactics and just can’t seem to understand that this outdated playbook doesn’t work anymore,” Marques said. “If Tony Gonzales and national Republicans think anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is a winning issue, they’re messing with the wrong Texan.”
The NRCC has supported openly gay candidates in the past, to the consternation of the most conservative elements of the House Republican Conference. In 2014, it backed Carl DeMaio in California and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, which drew protest from social conservatives.