The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrat hits Republican congressman over ties to Russia

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California. (Lauren Victoria Burke/AP)

The debate over Russia’s influence on American politics could be coming to a congressional race near you.

Harley Rouda, a Democrat challenging Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) in California’s 48th district, is using Rohrabacher’s out-of-the-mainstream views on Russia as an early cudgel in the race.

A new Web ad set to run on Facebook promises Rouda will be “tough on Russia” and shows a clip of Rohrabacher saying Russia is not “our enemy.” The ad also describes Rohrabacher as “one of the most entrenched members of Washington’s establishment.”

“Let’s send a message that it’s time for career politicians to hit the road,” Rouda tells the camera.

Rohrabacher, now in his 13th congressional term representing parts of Orange County, has won attention since the election for his desire to relax Washington’s posture toward Russia. Described in some news accounts as the Kremlin’s “favorite congressman,” he has defended President Trump’s most controversial statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a December interview with The Post, Rohrabacher predicted a softer attitude toward Russia would sweep Washington under Trump.

“This is what a number of people are all about,” he said. “Now that we have a president who is going to try his best to bring a better, more cooperative relationship with Russia, I think you’ll find more people stepping up to the plate and trying to put out an open hand.”

It’s too early to say whether Rouda, a businessman with a real estate background who raised $100,000 in donations in 12 days, can gain much momentum in Orange County by hammering Rohrabacher on foreign policy.

Still, it’s telling to see Russia pop up in the early stages of a 2018 House race.

On his website, Rouda says he supports investigating “any and all countries and individuals, including Russia” that might have influenced the election and calls for an independent prosecutor to lead the probe.

Another Democrat challenging Rohrabacher, Boyd Roberts, has also vowed to make Russia an issue in his campaign.

Rohrabacher won his district by 16.6 percent in November, while Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton edged out Trump by 1.7 percent.

A request for comment from Rohrabacher’s campaign was not returned.

Watch the ad below: