“A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule,” author and naturalist Michael Pollan once wrote in The New York Times. Tell that to the Ohio congressional candidate J.R. Majewski, who went viral in July 2020 after he painted his 19,000-square-foot front lawn to look like a Trump 2020 banner. Majewski appeared on Fox News in a QAnon T-shirt to show off the lawn art, Trump thanked him in a tweet, and Majewski returned the favor by storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Less than four months later, the Air Force veteran and nuclear energy booster announced his bid to unseat Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur and attempted to sanitize his image. “I’ve never read any QAnon drop—what they call the ‘Q drop,’ what they post on the website,” he told the Toledo Blade, in a sentence that feels self-refuting. Majewski won the 9th district’s Republican primary in May, and Trump endorsed him in June.
It all came crashing down in September, when Majewski was exposed as having taken part in a venerable American political tradition: lying about your military service. The Associated Press reported that Majewski, who had led people to believe he deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11, had instead helped load planes at a U.S. air base in Qatar. The National Republican Congressional Committee swiftly pulled nearly $1 million in ads targeting Kaptur. But the AP wasn’t done, revealing that Majewski also lied about why he wasn’t allowed to reenlist in the Air Force after four years: not for a dormitory “brawl,” as he claimed, but a DUI.
It was only a matter of time before he was caught exaggerating his academic record too. A race that was once a toss-up now leans Democratic.
Karoline Leavitt describes herself as having been the “token conservative” on campus, which may seem like a strange boast for a candidate for Congress until you realize that, at age 25, she only graduated a few years ago. But she’s accomplished a lot since then. She served as assistant press secretary under Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and then as spokeswoman for Elise Stefanik, perhaps the biggest Trump suck-up in the U.S House. Earlier this year, she dispatched another former Trump official, Matt Mowers, in the GOP primary for New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district. She is one of two “Gen Z” candidates to make it to this year’s general election.
Having been a Trump spox, Leavitt has a way with words. On climate change: “The alleged ‘existential threat of climate change’ is a manufactured crisis by the Democrat Party to frighten the American people into supporting the passage of the Green New Deal, which is a socialist takeover of our economy and society.” She has called H.R. 1, the Democrats’ bill to protect and expand voting rights, “a radical, federal steal of our elections.” She believes that abortion should be left up to the states, supports a national right to carry guns open or concealed, and wants to privatize Social Security and raise the retirement age. She thinks the government should only spend money on two things: national defense and homeland security. Oh, and she wants to abolish the Department of Education.
The latest polling shows Leavitt neck and neck with Democratic incumbent Chris Pappas. If she wins, she will be the youngest woman in U.S. history to serve in Congress—a record currently held by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was 29 when she took office.
Derrick Van Orden
Derrick Van Orden didn’t just attend the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021—contrary to his claims that he never entered the grounds—he also allegedly funded his trip to D.C. with thousands in campaign funds from his failed 2020 challenge of longtime Democratic Congressman Ron Kind.
Van Orden lost that by fewer than three points. With Kind now retiring, the open seat in Wisconsin’s western 3rd district—which went for Donald Trump in 2020 and leans Republican—would appear to be Van Orden’s to lose. A retired Navy SEAL, he’s running a pro–law enforcement, anti-abortion campaign. Van Orden, who supports a national ban with no exceptions, has compared the practice to genocide and promised to “defund Planned Parenthood” if elected. In response to President Biden’s proposal to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal Medicaid funds on most abortions, he tweeted: “In a single election cycle we went from the most Pro-Life President in history to one that will force Americans to pay for abortion—on demand—up to birth.” (Politifact rating: mostly false.)
Van Orden’s contempt for women’s rights doesn’t end there. He bragged in his memoir about exposing a lieutenant’s swollen genitals to two “cute” young women in a medical facility where he and the lieutenant were being treated for poison oak. In a 2020 interview, he connected high murder rates to women working outside of the home. His hypermasculine, culture-warrior persona won him endorsements from Donald Trump, Tom Cotton, and the NRA. He’s vastly outspending his opponent, Democrat Brad Pfaff, and is heavily favored to flip the seat red.
There’s no question that Joe Kent has a compelling personal story. A Green Beret, he married a Navy cryptologist named Shannon Smith and had two boys. But in 2019, a month after President Trump pledged to immediately withdraw troops from Syria (which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign in protest), Smith was killed by an ISIS suicide bomber there. As Mother Jones reported earlier this month, “Kent and then-President Trump were at Dover Air Force Base the day Shannon’s body returned. When the two spoke privately, Kent told Trump that he supported the Syria withdrawal and came away convinced that Trump’s distaste for war was genuine.”
Kent blames Smith’s death on “the Establishment,” for resisting Trump’s command. “Had President Trump actually been able to get our troops out like he ordered, my wife and the others that were killed there that day with her would still be alive,” Kent said last year. And he cites this moment as his reason for running for Congress. “Seeing the Establishment’s hubris and contempt for a President that represented the country’s will and the people’s best interests, I knew I had to act,” he says on his campaign website. “However, this time my fight was to defend America First policies.” (This is quite an about-face for someone who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primaries.)
Raised in Portland, Oregon, but running in Washington state’s 3rd district because the “far left had ruined that city,” Kent represents a small but growing contingent of antiwar veterans running for office as Republicans this year. But his (rightful) disdain for foreign interventionism is paired with Deep State suspicions and culture-war hyperbole (he has compared antifa and Black Lives Matter to “organized crime syndicates” and “terrorist organizations”), earning him the financial support of New Right eminence Peter Thiel. Of course, Kent also believes that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election, has pledged to investigate fraud if he wins, and thinks the January 6 insurrectionists are “political prisoners.” That explains his narrow primary victory over Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for impeaching Trump.
Kent also supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade and has called Covid-19 vaccines “experimental gene therapy,” telling The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg that Dr. Anthony Fauci should be charged for murder. He’s facing first-time Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, and the predictive models say she doesn’t stand a chance.
“I was at the Ellipse on January 6. That was the most amazing crowd, and the president was at his full awesomeness that day.”
That was how George Santos, the Republican nominee to represent Long Island’s North Shore in the U.S. House, described the scene at the Capitol in an interview with Lara Trump last February. Santos is a first-generation Brazilian American from Queens and the only openly gay Republican up for election in this year’s midterms. Previously, he served as New York regional director of Harbor City Capital, a firm that the Securities and Exchange Commission accused of being part of a “Ponzi scheme” involving at least $17.1 million.
Santos is staunchly anti-abortion, having voiced support for a national ban and criminal charges for providers in 2020. Though he does not oppose exceptions, he has said that “full police documentation” should be required of rape victims who seek abortions and implied that women lie about being raped to justify ending their pregnancies. On Twitter, he has echoed Republicans’ anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on “sexually loaded” school curricula. And earlier this year, he told an undercover Democratic activist that he “wrote a nice check for a law firm” to help release January 6 rioters held in “D.C. Gitmo.”
Santos ran in the 3rd congressional district in 2020 as well, but lost to incumbent Democrat Tom Suozzi by more than 12 points. This year, he’s in a statistical dead heat with Democrat Robert Zimmerman, who is also gay.