The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s campaign arm for candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives, recently employed a line of attack alluding to a Texas Democratic congressional candidate’s sexual orientation, as well as her support for transgender rights, in a district where Republicans could be vulnerable this November.
The NRCC has launched a website, DemocratFacts.org, designed to highlight the weaknesses of various Democratic candidates for office while also outlining the most effective attacks against them. On that site, the party has attacked Gina Ortiz Jones, an out LGBTQ candidate for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District seat, referencing the fact that she is in a relationship with another woman.
While campaign finance laws bar direct coordination between individual candidates and political action committees, successful campaigns have figured ways to circumvent that restriction — including by having candidates post clip reels to YouTube, or having party campaign committees post opposition research to public websites. That information can then be used by super PACS and other political action committees to craft commercials advocating for their preferred candidate and attacking the opposition party.
In its attack on Ortiz Jones, the NRCC posted a picture of Jones and her partner holding champagne glasses, with a description attempting to contrast the background of Republican candidate Tony Gonzales by highlighting his Texas roots and service in the Navy. The site deliberately excludes Ortiz Jones’s status as an Air Force veteran of the Iraq War and the fact that she was raised in San Antonio.
Under the “narrative” tab, the site also included a talking point stating that “Gina Jones and her female partner lived and worked near Washington, D.C., not Texas” before she sought federal office. According to The Huffington Post, while other candidates have been attacked for having lived in or spent time in Washington, other candidates’ profiles do not mention the people they lived with there. Additionally, Jones appears to be the only candidate on the site who is pictured with a spouse or partner.
The NRCC later told The Huffington Post that it removed the reference to Jones’s partner from the “narrative” section.
“It was included as a factual statement but we removed it because her orientation has nothing to do with her being a Washington, D.C., carpetbagger who supports closing local military bases in TX-23 that will cost thousands of jobs,” NRCC spokesman Bob Salera said in a statement.
However, while the reference to Jones’s sexual orientation was removed from the “narrative” section, the picture of Jones with her partner remains on the site, and the reference to Jones’s sexual orientation remains underneath the “hits” tab, which says, in the second of nine bullet points: “Before deciding to first run for Congress, Gina Jones and her partner lived and worked near Washington, D.C., not Texas. Jones has never owned property in the district and just recently moved into her mom’s house for the sole purpose of running for Congress in this district.”
Below that, the third most-important argument the NRCC site highlights reads: “Gina Jones supports using taxpayer money to pay for gender reassignment surgery.”
Democrats and LGBTQ advocates have denounced the talking points attacking Jones.
“These personal, homophobic, and transphobic attacks shows how shameless and low Tony Gonzales and the NRCC are willing to go in the race for Texas’s 23rd Congressional District,” Rebecca Marques, the Texas state director at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement in which she accused the NRCC of using “2004-style scare tactics” as part of an “outdated playbook” relying on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to motivate voters.
“It also shows how shallow their case is against a formidable veteran candidate of color and member of the LGBTQ community,” Marques added. “If Tony Gonzales and national Republicans think anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is a winning issue, they’re messing with the wrong Texan.”
Jones, 39, previously ran to represent the district, which sprawls from San Antonio in the east to the Mexican border in the south and all the way along the border until it reaches the outskirts of El Paso at its westernmost point, during the 2018 cycle, losing narrowly to Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, one of a handful of moderate and pro-LGBTQ Republicans in the House, by a mere 1,150 votes.
With Hurd retiring, most political prognosticators believe that even a moderate increase among the district’s Latino voters — who comprise 70% of the district but typically do not vote in numbers that reflect the size of the community — during a presidential election cycle could provide a boon to Democrats in November.
“It’s disturbing, but not surprising, that the House Republican campaign arm thinks it’s acceptable to run a gutter campaign of bigotry and homophobia against Gina and her family,” Robyn Patterson, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s national press secretary, said in a statement. “The people of South and West Texas are better than these attacks and the shameless Washington operatives who wrote them. We’re confident Texans will send this tough fighter and veteran to Congress in November.”
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