WASHINGTON (AP) — Last year, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan angered at the lack of duality following the January 6 Capitol uprising. and said Republican opposition to a commission of inquiry was a “slap in the face” to law enforcement officers attacked that day by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
Ryan has tread more cautiously this year as he runs for US Senate in Ohio, a one-time state on the battlefield that has evolved to the right in the Trump era. During a recent debate, his Republican opponent, JD Vance, accused Ryan of having an “obsession” with the insurgency and called the Jan. 6 commission’s investigation a “political hit” on Trump.
“I don’t want to talk about this more than anyone,” Ryan retorted. “I want to talk about jobs. I want to talk about wages. I want to talk about pensions … but my God, you have to look at it.’
Ryan’s caution reflects the political divide that still exists nearly two years after the violent Capitol uprising spurred on by Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 presidential election. Many Republicans still mistakenly believe the vote count against Trump has been manipulated, and GOP lawmakers have repeatedly downplayed the violent attackkilling at least five people, injuring more than 100 police officers and leaving lawmakers fleeing for their lives.
But the reluctance of some Democrats to talk about January 6 during the campaign run is an admission that voters are primarily focused on wallet issues.such as gas prices and rising inflation, in an interim year that is typically a referendum on the president in power. Those dynamics have struck a delicate balance for Democrats, especially those like Ryan who operate in more Republican areas or swing states.
“The public sees this as a thing of the past, while now dealing with inflation,” said GOP surveyor Frank Luntz, who led focus groups on the Jan. 6 attack. If you can’t afford to feed your family or fill your tank with gas, Luntz says, “claiming something that happened two years ago isn’t high on your list.”
Still, some candidates bet that voters will care.
Independent Evan McMullin, a former Republican taking on 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 to the American Republic” after it was revealed that the GOP senator had texted White House aides about finding ways for Trump prior to the uprising. to undo his defeat. Lee demanded an apology, which McMullin did not offer, noting that he had voted with most senators to confirm Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
McMullin also appeared with Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the January 6 panel, at an event in Salt Lake City. Speaking to an audience of supporters carrying placards that read “Country First,” the two men labeled the midterm elections as a struggle 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. her work as a member of the Jan. 6 panel saying it is “the most important thing I’ve done or will ever do” professionally, outside of her military service. Her campaign later had an ad featuring images of her opponent, Republican Jen Kiggans, who declined to say whether Biden had been elected fairly.
“I’m not your candidate if you’re standing next to 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 wrestles with his opponent, Republican Derrick Van Ordenbut bet more people will vote against Van Orden if they discover he was one of the Trump supporters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. A Pfaff ad shows images of the violence and a veteran criticizing Van Orden.
Another Wisconsin ad targets Republican Senator Ron Johnsonwho is running for reelection and has repeatedly downplayed the violence of the attack. “Ron Johnson is making excuses for rioters who tried to overthrow our government,” said a police officer in the ad, paid for by Senate Majority PAC, who is associated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says the issue of democracy has stood out among Democratic voters, especially older and suburban women who have a less favorable view of Trump. “They’re talking about it as a matter of voting,” Lake said.
John Zogby, also a Democratic pollster, agrees that for many Democrats, the threat to democracy is a pinnacle. But he has seen less interest from the independent voters who could decide the most competitive elections.
“I don’t know if it will bring new voters to the Democrats,” Zogby said.
Like Ryan, the chairman of the House Spending Subcommittee that oversees the Capitol’s policing, some Democrats who have been candid about the uprising while in Washington have talked less about it during the campaign.
New Hampshire Rep. Annie Kuster and Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee have spoken out about their post-traumatic stress from being stuck in the House gallery when rioters tried to smash the doors on January 6. Now in competitive reelection races, neither has paid much attention to the attack or threats to democracy – though both have occasionally mentioned it.
Kildee noted that police protected him in a debate that day against his opponent, Republican Paul Junge, when he spoke of his opposition to efforts to sanction law enforcement. “People wearing uniforms saved my life on Jan. 6,” Kildee said. “I know what the police can do.”
In response to a question about aid to Ukraine, Kuster said she believes the United States should fight for democracy domestically and that she is a “survivor, witness, victim of the January 6 uprising in our Capitol.”
Vermont Representative Peter Welch, who was stuck that day alongside Kuster and Kildee and others, has chosen a different strategy as he heads to the Senate in his liberal-minded state. He often talks about his experience.
Asked about the committee’s work in a recent debate, Welch told the public that “I was there” and that it was a violent attack on the peaceful transfer of power.
“A big problem with this election is that the American people are coming together and fighting to preserve the democracy that has served us so well,” Welch said.
His opponent, Republican Gerald Malloy, responded that criminals should be held accountable, but that Americans have the right to assemble peacefully.
“I don’t call this an insurrection,” Malloy said.
Associated Press writers Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Kathy McCormick in Concord, NH; and Will Weisset and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s 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 medium-term issues and factors.