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Gold Star father attacked by Trump steps up role in Dem primaries

Gold Star father attacked by Trump steps up role in Dem primaries
© The Hill photo illustration

The Gold Star father who sparred with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE during the 2016 presidential race is using his political fame to boost Democratic candidates in crowded primaries in 2018.

Khizr Khan has so far backed several Democrats running in must-win House races. In an interview with The Hill, Khan said that he’s motivated by events like the fatal violence at a white supremacist rally last August in Charlottesville, Va.

It is a new political role for Khan, who entered the national spotlight with his 2016 Democratic National Convention speech about his son — a soldier who was killed fighting in the Iraq War in 2004 — as well as Trump’s attacks on Muslims.

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Trump responded to Khan’s speech with a series of attacks, saying he had made “a lot of sacrifices” and questioning whether Khan’s wife didn’t speak at the convention because of her religion.

Democrats have seen a recruitment surge for House candidates in the Trump era, but the expanding fields can also lead to costly, divisive primaries.

It remains to be seen what kind of impact Khan’s endorsement will have in these primaries, but strategists say a boost from a high-profile Democrat could be a boon for candidates looking to accelerate their fundraising and mobilize voters.

“Voters, especially Democratic primary voters, remember his battle with Trump and see him as a symbol of the resistance,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson. “I think for voters he is a reminder that we’re better than this, and that is a powerful and compelling message for the midterms.

“I think any Democratic candidate would be fortunate to have his time and his effort and his voice in support of their campaigns for what it means to their message and what it means to energizing their grass roots.”

Following his convention speech, Khan went on to campaign for Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Bolton tells Russians 2016 meddling had little effect | Facebook eyes major cyber firm | Saudi site gets hacked | Softbank in spotlight over Saudi money | YouTube fights EU 'meme ban' proposal Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout MORE in 2016 and has stayed politically active, participating in 176 speaking engagements in 2017. Khan, a Virginia attorney, also campaigned for successful Democratic gubernatorial nominees in Virginia and New Jersey.

In October, Khan sent a fundraising email on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the House Democrats’ campaign arm. Khan’s fundraising plea came after controversy over callous remarks Trump was accused of making to a Gold Star widow. 

“I love this country. My son died for this country. And like you, I watched Donald Trump’s latest attack on Gold Star families in horror,” Khan wrote in the DCCC’s fundraising email.

“Donald Trump can’t comprehend the sacrifice from our service members and families like mine. I know the only way to stop Trump is to win a Democratic House.”

Khan has endorsed several Democrats running in crowded primaries, including Jason Crow, who’s running against Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Early ballots pouring in with 15 days to the midterms Durbin calls for expulsion of Saudi ambassador in response to Khashoggi's death GOP lawmaker demands ‘immediate recall’ of acting US ambassador to Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Colo.); Ed Meier, who’s looking to unseat Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage MORE (R-Texas); Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s running to challenge Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdElection Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout O'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach MORE (R-Texas); and Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickDems outraising Republicans in final stretch of midterms Kirkpatrick makes comeback by winning Arizona Democratic House primary Live results: Arizona and Florida hold primaries MORE, a former House member who will be running for an open seat once Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona Senate candidate doubles down attacking opponent over Taliban comments Arizona newspaper backs Democrat in dead heat Senate race Trump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.) announces her Senate run. 

Khan plans to attend fundraisers and help candidates at campaign events. He said he’s met with the DCCC and will make future endorsements as national Democrats start to coalesce around more candidates.

In his interview with The Hill, Khan said recent events like the Charlottesville violence motivated him to continue to his involvement in politics. 

“It’s such reminders that encourage me, that give me direction, that this is the time to speak and continue to speak for the values that we all cherish so very much, meaning our democracy, our rule of law,” Khan said.

“It is from that angle that I support these candidates and I stand with them. I lend them my voice. I go to their fundraisers if it can add to their strength.” 

Khan noted that he’s endorsed many veterans running for Congress, something he said “is very dear and close to my heart.”

Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer running for Hurd’s seat in Texas, said she first heard Khan speak in person at an Asian American Action Fund event and followed up with him after. Khan said he “fully endorses” her and decides on endorsements based on what candidates have done as well as finding “a personal connection” with them.

Ortiz Jones is one of several Democrats running to take on Hurd, a former undercover CIA officer who narrowly won reelection to his Texas swing seat in 2016 and ranks as a top Democratic target for 2018. Her toughest competitor in the March 6 primary is former federal prosecutor Jay Hulings, who’s close to Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroWhite House responds to Joaquin Castro's Kushner allegations: 'an outrageous slanderous lie' Overnight Defense: US, South Korea cancel another military exercise | Dozen sailors injured in chopper crash on aircraft carrier | Navy vet charged with sending toxic letters Joaquin Castro accuses Kushner of orchestrating killing of Khashoggi MORE (D-Texas) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Ortiz Jones has gotten other big endorsements, including from EMILY’s List, a group that aims to elect women who support abortion rights to office. She noted that Khan’s endorsement has helped with fundraising.

“In some places, maybe even in this race, where the ‘establishment’ might be behind one person, the fact that somebody like a Mr. Khizr Khan has your back, that means a lot to people in this district, particularly given the large military defense population that we have in this district,” Ortiz Jones told The Hill.

“He made a point of noting this in his endorsement, that as a veteran you are going to see issues in a different light. As an Iraq War veteran, I can’t separate that experience from how I talk and think about issues.”

Khan also sees a larger role in 2018, when Democrats hope to flip 24 seats to take back control of the House. Using the recent Virginia elections as an example, he said he’ll continue to focus on making sure voters don’t sit on the sidelines in the upcoming midterm elections.

“One question that mostly every speaking engagement ends with is ‘Where do we go from here?’ ” Khan said.