In the race for an open House seat in a Florida district redrawn to tilt more Republican, Anna Paulina Luna is running as a self-described “pro-life extremist” and stolen-election believer, frequently appearing on far-right talk shows hosted by onetime Donald Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and the misinformation blog Gateway Pundit.
Mike Collins, who’s running for a safe Republican House seat in Georgia, appeared in a Twitter video carrying an assault rifle and falsely claiming that Trump won the state in 2020. He has spoken on behalf of defendants in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. And in a Facebook post last year, he said he told a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, “Hold the line now, help is on the way.”
In Oklahoma, the Freedom Caucus’s co-founder, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), cut an ad for Josh Brecheen, a former state legislator who introduced bills against teaching evolution in schools and is now running in a solid-red congressional district.
Luna, Collins and Brecheen are among the candidates on the cusp of joining the House class of 2023 as freshmen if Republicans have a strong night on Nov. 8. They’re all running with the support of the campaign arm of the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line bloc that has evolved from its early days as a secretive tea party brotherhood to become the de facto vehicle for most of the House Republicans closely aligned with Trump’s Make America Great Again movement, including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Michael Cloud of Texas and Mary Miller of Illinois.
“The Freedom Caucus is where the fight is,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said in an October podcast interview with caucus chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.). “We had a great crop of freshmen members, male and female, come into the Freedom Caucus in 2020 … and I’m seeing another good crop of people coming into the Freedom Caucus this time.”
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For the past decade, the Freedom Caucus has dug in against bipartisan compromise and created headaches for Republican leaders, and the group could be on track to do so again, especially if it commands deciding votes in a slim majority. Perry said the caucus would use its clout to put pressure on Republican leadership on issues such as repealing the IRS expansion, impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, investigating Attorney General Merrick Garland and abolishing the Department of Education.
“We need to hold investigations, people need to be held accountable and we need to be willing to take tough votes,” Perry said on the podcast with Biggs. “If we were in charge, this is what would be happening, and all we can do is try and force our leadership to have this discussion.”
Republicans will be eagerly watching on election night who will make up the GOP conference to determine which ideological faction will have the most sway. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) acknowledged during a September interview that if more pragmatic candidates are elected, it could drown out the demands of the roughly 35 members in the ultraconservative faction.
“It really depends on the margin in terms of how influential the Freedom Caucus will be,” said Buck, a member of the caucus.
If the Freedom Caucus increases its ranks significantly, it will be easier to gain leverage. Members have already discussed making stark demands of leadership in exchange for their votes, in particular a request to bring back a rule that gives members the ability to recall the speaker at any time — a direct threat to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should he take the gavel.
They are also looking for more influence, particularly on committees where they have largely been shunned from serving, given their more conservative views. They hope to have more than one representative serving on the Steering Committee, which determines committee assignments and regularly helps set the agenda with leadership. They also want more members to serve as chairs beyond Ohio’s Jordan, who is set to wield the gavel at the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
McCarthy, after watching the Freedom Caucus end the speakerships of John A. Boehner and Paul D. Ryan, learned to keep its members close. He is already signaling that he’ll take up some of the bloc’s demands, such as repealing the IRS expansion, blocking future aid to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion, and using the debt ceiling as leverage to win concessions from the Biden administration.
Republicans have acknowledged privately that they’re focused on governing and passing legislation that fits with their agenda, ahead of digging into impeachment. Many Republican members and aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, want to deter calls by the far-right flank to impeach President Biden, fearing they would set the precedent of the president being impeached whenever the opposing party wins the House majority.
By embracing Jordan and listening to the perspectives of many members, aides say, McCarthy and other leaders already have an upper hand in keeping the caucus at bay. But aides acknowledged that managing the Freedom Caucus will depend on the size and makeup of the conference as a whole.
In the primaries, McCarthy’s allies worked quietly to weed out some of the most controversial candidates, aiming past a raw majority for what they termed a “governing majority,” with mixed success. Where they failed, far-right nominees are now making some races more competitive than they might have been. Joe Kent in Washington state and Sandy Smith in North Carolina both overcame resistance from McCarthy’s team with the backing of Trump and the House Freedom Fund.
Now Kent, who spoke at a 2021 rally for Jan. 6 defendants, faces a tight race against Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, who has raised more than $2 million since the primary. In a recent debate, Kent said that people should be able to have machine guns (federally banned since 1934), that the Jan. 6 riot looked “like an intelligence operation” and that people prosecuted for attacking the Capitol are “political prisoners.”
Smith tweeted on the day of the attack that she “marched from the Monument to the Capitol,” and has called for executing people who she falsely claims stole the 2020 election. She has also been accused of domestic violence, and is now on the defensive in a district that Trump carried. The Cook Political Report rates the race as likely to go Democratic.
Some Trump allies running in swing districts, such as John Gibbs in Michigan, are steering clear of saying whether they would join the Freedom Caucus. “I haven’t really gone that far,” Gibbs said in an interview last month. “I’m focused on getting there in the first place.”
Luna, the far-right Florida candidate, survived a $1.6 million barrage in the primary by Republican donors acting without McCarthy’s direct coordination. Now she’s facing a well-funded Democratic opponent in Eric Lynn, who was a Pentagon adviser in the Obama administration. Lynn’s cousin, Illinois investor Justin Ishbia, supplied $5 million to a super PAC attacking Luna for her stances on abortion and the 2020 election. Cook rates the seat as likely to go Republican.
Luna’s campaign received more than $377,000 from the House Freedom Fund — more than any other non-incumbent — plus more than $126,000 in outside spending. She has campaigned with Greene and, on her podcast, praised Greene, Jordan, Boebert and other Freedom Caucus members as “incredible thought leaders.” Luna confirmed to The Washington Post that she would join the Freedom Caucus.
“We do not need another Marjorie Taylor Greene in Congress, and we definitely do not want someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene representing our community,” Lynn said in an interview. “Her being out of the mainstream is what is gaining us momentum.”
The Luna campaign said she wasn’t available for an interview. In written responses to questions, Luna said she called herself a “pro-life extremist” to make fun of Lynn trying to “stereotype” her.
“Eric Lynn is lying about me and my positions to distract from the fact that he’s just another liberal rubber stamp for the reckless Biden/Pelosi agenda,” she said.
In Tennessee’s 5th District, Andy Ogles has presented himself as the state’s “most conservative mayor” — accusing the Biden administration of “weaponizing covid”; dismissing rape and incest exceptions to abortion bans as a “red herring used by left and radicals”; and describing the election as a “spiritual war.” In a primary debate, Ogles said Biden should be impeached and, alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), tried for treason. He won the primary with a plurality of 37 percent, and is now favored to enter Congress in a predominantly Republican district.
His campaign received more than $73,000 from the House Freedom Fund, plus more than $5,000 in outside spending.
After seeing Ogles speak in person at least nine times, Randy Stamps, a lifelong Republican from Hendersonville and former political director of the state party, said he was disappointed to hear divisive rhetoric about masks and no discussion of solutions to improve the economy or work across party lines. Stamps publicly announced his support for Ogles’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Heidi Campbell.
“He’s going to do whatever Jim Jordan tells him to do,” Stamps said of Ogles. “Sending someone to Washington who’s beholden to people like Jim Jordan is not going to do anything to make this country move forward.”
The Ogles campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
“He’s one of these candidates who won the primary because he was furthest to the right, endorsed by Trump, believes in the ‘Big Lie,’ says he’s a white Christian nationalist,” Campbell said. “The more people that get elected who are on board with this sort of theocratic, extreme agenda, the more freedom we’re going to lose.”
Arizona congressional candidate Eli Crane is in a hard-fought race to unseat incumbent Democrat Tom O’Halleran. Crane and the National Republican Congressional Committee have spent more than $3 million on ads, against $4.7 million by O’Halleran and Democratic allies. Some Democratic ads attack Crane for promoting “conspiracy theories spread by white supremacists” about footage of the attack on the Capitol. Cook rates the seat as leaning Republican.
Crane has said he is being mentored by Freedom Caucus members and plans to work closely with them in Congress. “First, I’m going to beat Tom O’Halleran, then I’m going to join the Freedom Caucus,” Crane said to cheers and applause at a September campaign stop in Casa Grande, between Phoenix and Tuscon. “The Republican Party now has played defense for far too long.”
In the speech, Crane recalled his service as a Navy SEAL and his business selling bottle openers made out of bullets, which appeared on the TV game show “Shark Tank.” Crane also encouraged people to watch a speech by a right-wing pastor about “Cultural Marxism,” which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as an antisemitic conspiracy theory. In 2020, Crane posted to Facebook supporting a conspiracy theory that world leaders staged the covid pandemic, and comparing vaccination policies to Nazi Germany.
The Crane campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Several new candidates endorsed by both Trump and the Freedom Caucus are all but assured to win in safe seats. In Ohio, former Trump aide Max Miller is on track to replace Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection. Miller has been accused of aggressive behavior toward women, including slapping his then-girlfriend, former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, according to Politico. Miller’s lawyer denied the assault.
Harriet Hageman is a shoo-in for Wyoming’s sole congressional seat after her primary win over Rep. Liz Cheney, who supported impeachment and served as vice chair of the House Jan. 6 investigation. Hageman received almost $500,000 in direct support from the House Freedom Fund or affiliated outside spending. She has falsely called the 2020 election rigged and cited the discredited conspiracy theory movie “2,000 Mules.” A spokesperson confirmed that Hageman will be joining the Freedom Caucus.
Eric Burlison — a Missouri state senator who sponsored a bill to ban state and local enforcement of federal gun regulations — received an endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and additional funding from the House Freedom Fund for his congressional bid. Keith Self, who became the nominee in a solidly Republican Texas district after GOP Rep. Van Taylor admitted to an affair and withdrew, has run a campaign emphasizing election fraud and has said he wants to serve on the House Administration Committee, which settles disputes in congressional races. His campaign received $5,000 from the House Freedom Fund.
The fund has donated to 22 candidates so far this cycle, a move that is often considered an endorsement by the group in the hope candidates will join its ranks if elected. The group backed all 33 incumbents and four current members who will not return to Congress because they lost their primaries or ran for higher office. Even if the caucus were able to add all 22 endorsed candidates to the group, it would not make the caucus the largest ideological faction: The Republican Study Committee, a more traditionally conservative group, currently numbers over 150.
Other MAGA candidates have been less clear about aligning themselves with the Freedom Caucus. Ryan Zinke, Trump’s scandal-plagued former interior secretary, is favored to win a Republican-leaning seat in Montana. Zinke hasn’t said if he’d join and his campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither did the campaign of Russell Fry, the Trump-endorsed congressional candidate in South Carolina who unseated Rep. Tom Rice, another of the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment.
Derrick Van Orden, a Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin, was also outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. Unlike fellow attendees Smith and House candidate J.R. Majewski in Ohio, Van Orden is favored to win by Cook, which rates his race as likely to go Republican. National Democrats haven’t invested heavily in the race. Van Orden hasn’t said if he plans to join the Freedom Caucus.
“We are taking nothing for granted and not measuring any curtains,” he said in a statement. “Ask me again November 9th.”
The 2022 Midterm Elections
Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.
Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.
What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.