Republican candidates run against ghost of John Boehner

Republican candidates run against ghost of John Boehner
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The ghost of John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election White House strikes back at Bushes over legacy MORE is haunting House and Senate GOP primary races across the country.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, running for an open Senate seat in Indiana, is out with a new TV ad touting his 2015 vote to oust John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election White House strikes back at Bushes over legacy MORE from the Speaker’s office. It's a not-so-subtle jab at his primary opponent, fellow Rep. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungCongress mulls toughening foreign lobbying law The NRA's power: By the numbers The Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal MORE, who backed Boehner.

Former Rep. Paul BrounPaul BrounCalifornia lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment Republican candidates run against ghost of John Boehner The Trail 2016: Let’s have another debate! MORE (R-Ga.) came out swinging in his challenge to GOP Rep. Doug Collins last week, saying Collins has the “values of Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting MORE, John Boehner and the Washington establishment."

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Even in Tuesday’s crowded, 15-man primary race to fill Boehner’s vacant southwest Ohio seat, some candidates are accusing opponents of being another Boehner clone, even though the former Speaker consistently won reelection to his House seat by large margins.

Though he resigned from Congress back in October, the unpopular former Speaker’s name and likeness are still cropping up on the campaign trail in some of the fiercest congressional primary contests.

And given that outsiders like Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it Anti-gay marriage county clerk Kim Davis to seek reelection in Kentucky MORE are dominating the GOP presidential primary, it’s no surprise why some Republicans are trying to tie their primary opponents to a longtime Capitol Hill insider who came to embody the D.C. establishment.

“Washington is not a popular place right now. It’s hard not to go wrong in the Republican primary positioning against it,” said one Indiana Republican who’s been observing the Hoosier State’s Senate race. “Stutzman’s vote against Boehner is a credible way to do that with the conservative Republican electorate.”

Boehner, through a spokesman, declined to comment for this story.

Stutzman, one of 25 Republicans who voted against Boehner for Speaker in January 2015, released a campaign ad last week in which a narrator says Stutzman “stood up to his own party” and “voted against John Boehner.” The ad opens with an image of Boehner planting a kiss on the cheek of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“John Boehner was not helping our party policy-wise and politically. Being willing to step up and raise your hand and say ‘I think we need someone else’ shows character,” Stutzman said in a phone interview with The Hill.

“We were not going to advance the conservative agenda with John Boehner as Speaker of the House. I would have welcomed Todd Young to stand up with me.”

Young’s campaign says the Stutzman ad tells an incomplete story. Stutzman twice voted for Boehner as Speaker, in 2011 and 2013, before casting a no vote in 2015. Stutzman pocketed $15,000 from Boehner’s leadership PAC over the years, never offering to return the money.

And Stutzman’s family farm has received nearly $1 million in agricultural subsidies since 1995, even though the fourth-generation farmer is opposed to the payments, the Young campaign pointed out.

"Like a lot of other career politicians, Marlin Stutzman conveniently omits the full story because he doesn't want conservatives to know that he voted to raise his own pay, his business pocketed nearly $1 million in taxpayer subsidies and he actually supported Boehner twice,” Young campaign manager Trevor Foughty said in an email.

Both Stutzman, a former state lawmaker, and Young, a retired captain in the Marines, are vying to replace Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCounterintelligence needs reboot for 21st century Ending FISA’s sunset provisions is not a risk worth taking Overnight Cybersecurity: Facebook's Sandberg backs release of Russian ads | Watchdog to probe alleged FCC cyberattack | Trump officially nominates new DHS head MORE (R-Ind.), who is retiring. The primary is set for May 3.

For Tea Party insurgent Art Halvorson, it was his frustration with Boehner’s leadership that prompted him to launch a primary challenge against House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in the 2014 cycle. He’s happy the conservative House Freedom Caucus helped push Boehner out last fall, but Halvorson’s now targeting the influential chairman and close Boehner ally in a rematch.

“Boehner’s lieutenant, Bill Shuster, is still bringing great discredit and embarrassment onto the GOP and he must go too,” Halvorson said.

But watching a recent Shuster campaign ad, voters would have no idea the chairman was friendly with Boehner. In the 30-second spot, Shuster aligns himself with the positions of Trump, Cruz, Sarah Palin and Ben Carson, never mentioning that he holds the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure gavel.

A Shuster spokesman said he had no idea why Halvorson is running again now that Boehner is retired.

On day one of his campaign, Broun, a conservative bomb thrower, tried to tie the incumbent congressman, Collins, directly to Boehner.  

“Doug Collins has the values of Paul Ryan, John Boehner and the Washington establishment,” Broun said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m the people’s congressman. He’s the establishment’s congressman.”

A Collins spokeswoman, Carmen Foskey, rejected that characterization, arguing that the two-term congressman always votes in the best interests of his northern Georgia district. During the past year, he’s opposed high-profile, leadership-backed bills relating to trade, Iran sanctions and the budget deal negotiated by Boehner and President Obama.

“Doug stands with leadership when they are right and votes against them when he believes they are wrong — not when he is trying to advance his own selfish political agenda,” Foskey said. “Mr. Broun is trying to deflect attention away from his own record. While vying for a spot on the Energy and Commerce committee, he voted for Speaker Boehner and consistently voted to appease leadership.”

Since stepping down last October, Boehner has largely avoided the media spotlight. He’s given some private paid speeches around the country, and recently gave a national security keynote address in D.C. But he hasn’t appeared on cable TV or the political Sunday shows for many months, even as a civil war rages within his party over a possible Trump nomination.

In Ohio on Saturday night, Boehner was honored at the Butler County GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner that was attended by many of the candidates vying for his old seat. But Boehner has steered clear of endorsing any of the candidates.

One of them, J.D. Winteregg, a long-shot candidate who challenged Boehner in the 2014 primary, has been blasting the former Speaker at every opportunity. And he’s tried to paint two well-funded front-runners, state Sen. Bill Beagle and state Rep. Tim Derickson, as more of the same.

“Beagle and Derickson are both in the statehouse now. They represent the status quo, don’t ruffle feathers, don’t do anything bold. They will be more like Boehner than anyone else,” Winteregg said in a phone interview. “I stood up when it was hard, when others sat on the sidelines.”

However, that might be a poor strategy in a district where Boehner was easily elected to 13 terms and whose constituents take pride in the fact that one of their own rose from barkeep’s son to Speaker of the House.

None of the other candidates in the race have been attacking Boehner directly, though Derickson is featured in a catchy campaign ad shoveling manure and saying he’s fed up with the “bull----” in Washington. Beagle called himself a "practical problem solver" who will will take on Washington, but he also didn't invoke Boehner's name.

“Most candidates aren’t bashing him,” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges told The Hill. “I believe the winner will be one of the two current legislators who have not taken that approach.”