Richard Ojeda backed Donald Trump for president, but the West Virginia state senator is now running as a Democrat for the House as his party seeks to wrest control of Congress from Republicans.
In an interview with Hill.TV’s “Rising,” Ojeda said it’s not that he always agrees with Trump, who remains very popular in West Virginia.
“If you have a great idea, I’ll support your great idea. But if you don’t have a great idea, I won’t,” he said.
“Just because I support somebody doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll agree with them always. If they do not do something that’s correct, I have the right to make comment.”
Ojeda, a military veteran, is running to replace Rep. Evan Jenkins, the Republican congressman who vacated his seat for an unsuccessful Senate bid earlier this year.
It’s an uphill race for Ojeda, as Trump won the conservative district by 50 points in 2016.
Ojeda, a tattoo-adorned former paratrooper, doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of most congressional candidates. He’s been a vocal supporter of the recent teachers’ strikes in his state and has called for medicinal marijuana as a solution to the opioid crisis.
He also made clear in an interview with Mother Jones last month that while he wants Trump to succeed, he’s frustrated with what he referred to as the “circus” surrounding the White House.
Ojeda’s vote for Trump in West Virginia over Hillary Clinton could also help him in his race. He won his May primary with 52 percent of the vote.
Krystal Ball, a “Rising” co-host, leads the People’s House Project, a political committee that supports Ojeda and has donated about $5,000 to his campaign in in-kind contributions and donations, according to Federal Election Commission Reports.
Ojeda argued on “Rising” that the Democratic Party needs to find its roots again if it wants to make inroads in communities like his. While West Virginia has a history of supporting moderate Democrats, the state continues to drift to the right.
“I believe in what the Democratic Party was supposed to be. It was supposed to be about taking care of the working class citizens, taking care of our sick, taking care of our elderly, our veterans — if we are going to send you away and break you, we are going to fix you when you get home. And creating opportunities for those who live in poverty,” he said.
“Has it always been that way? Has it kind of fallen from grace in the past? That’s probably why now every place in West Virginia is red. But I believe we have to get back to the basics, if we do that, I think we can get back on track.”
— Ben Kamisar
–This report was updated on June 20 at 2:28 p.m.