WASHINGTON — Speaking in the House last year, Democratic Representative Tim Ryan angrily lamented the lack of bipartisanship after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and said Republican opposition to a commission of inquiry was a “slap in the face” to assaulted law enforcement officers. by supporters of President Donald Trump that day.
Ryan has walked more cautiously this year as he runs for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, a former battleground state that swung to the right in the Trump era. In a recent debate, his Republican opponent, JD Vance, accused Ryan of being “obsessed” with the riot and called the House committee’s Jan. 6 investigation a “political stunt” on Trump.
“I don’t want to talk about it more than anyone else,” Ryan shot back. “I want to talk about jobs. I want to talk about salaries. I want to talk about the retreats… but, my God, you have to look into this.
Ryan’s caution is a reflection of the political divide that remains nearly two years after the violent Capitol riot sparked by Trump’s false claims about a stolen 2020 presidential election. Many Republicans still mistakenly believe that the vote count was rigged against Trump, and GOP lawmakers repeatedly downplayed the violent attack, which left at least five people dead, injured more than 100 police officers and sent lawmakers running for their lives.
But the reluctance of some Democrats to talk about Jan. 6 on the campaign trail is an acknowledgment that voters are mostly focused on pocket issues, like gas prices and rising inflation, in a year midterm which is usually a referendum on the incumbent president. That dynamic has created a delicate balance for Democrats, especially those like Ryan running in Republican-leaning areas or swing states.
“The public sees this as something of the past, as they face inflation right now,” says GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who led focus groups on the Jan. 6 attack. If you can’t afford to feed your family or fill your gas tank, Luntz says, “arguing about something that happened two years ago isn’t likely to be high on your list. listing”.
Still, some candidates are betting voters will care.
Independent Evan McMullin, a former Republican candidate against Utah Sen. Mike Lee, has made the issue central to his campaign. During a debate this month, McMullin said Lee had committed “treason of the American republic” after it was revealed the GOP senator had texted White House aides before the riot to find ways for Trump to undo his defeat. Lee demanded an apology, which McMullin did not offer, and noted that he had voted with most senators to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
McMullin also appeared with Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, at an event in Salt Lake City. Addressing an audience that included supporters carrying signs that read “Country First,” the two men framed the midterms as a fight for democracy.
“If you’re Mike Lee, it’s still okay to say that Donald Trump is the future of the party and the leader of the party,” Kinzinger said.
During a debate earlier this month, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., defended her job as a House panelist Jan. 6, saying it’s “the most important thing I have done or will ever do” professionally, beyond his military service. His campaign then ran an ad showing images of his opponent, Republican Jen Kiggans, refusing to say whether Biden had been elected fairly.
“I’m not your candidate if you support the insurgents,” Luria said during the debate. “I’m not your candidate if you’d rather have Donald J. Trump as president again.”
In Wisconsin, Democrat Brad Pfaff is battling 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 the Capitol on Jan. 6. A Pfaff ad shows footage of the violence and a veteran criticizing Van Orden.
Another Wisconsin ad targets Republican Senator 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 overthrow our government,” says a police officer in the ad, paid for by 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 prominent among Democratic voters, especially among older and suburban women who have a less favorable view of Trump. “They talk about it as a problem getting the vote,” Lake said.
John Zogby, also a Democratic pollster, agrees that the threat to democracy is a top issue for many Democrats. But he saw less interest among independent voters who could decide the most competitive elections.
“I don’t know if that wins any new voters for the Democrats,” Zogby says.
Like Ryan, the chairman of the House spending subcommittee that oversees Capitol police, some Democrats who spoke out loud about the riot in Washington spoke 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 in the House gallery as rioters tried to break down the doors on Jan. 6. on attack or threats against democracy – although both have sometimes mentioned it.
Kildee noted that police shielded him that day during a debate against his opponent, Republican Paul Junge, as he spoke about his opposition to law enforcement fundraising efforts. “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 believed the United States should also fight for democracy at home and that she was a “survivor, witness, victim of the insurgency of January 6 in our Capitol”.
Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, who was framed alongside Kuster and Kildee and others that day, chose a different strategy as he runs for the Senate in his liberal-leaning state. He often talks about his experience.
Asked about the committee’s work during a recent debate, Welch told the audience that “I was there” and that it was a violent attack on the peaceful transfer of power.
“A big issue in this election is that the American people are coming together and fighting to preserve this democracy that has served us so well,” Welch said.
His opponent, Republican Gerald Malloy, responded that criminals should be held accountable but Americans have the right to peacefully assemble.
“I don’t call it an insurrection,” Malloy said.
Associated Press writer Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis.; Kathy McCormick in Concord, NH; and Will Weissert and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the mid-term issues and factors at play.