Tea Party Targets Rep. Richard Hanna Again After Near-Miss in 2014

Richard Hanna was already one of hardline conservatives’ top targets, even before accusing the GOP of playing politics on Benghazi.

AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
Oct. 27, 2015, 8 p.m.

After sur­viv­ing a close primary in 2014, Rep. Richard Hanna might be the tea party’s top con­gres­sion­al tar­get in next year’s elec­tions.

The Re­pub­lic­an from up­state New York is one of the House’s most mod­er­ate law­makers, and he was un­op­posed in the last gen­er­al elec­tion in his mod­er­ate dis­trict. But Hanna’s out­spoken dis­dain for par­tis­an polit­ics—like when, amidst the “war on wo­men” rhet­or­ic from Demo­crats in 2012, he said Re­pub­lic­ans didn’t de­serve to have wo­men donate money to them—has made him an en­emy to some Re­pub­lic­ans, lead­ing to that nar­row 7-point vic­tory over a barely known GOP state le­gis­lat­or last year.

Since then, Hanna hasn’t toned down what con­ser­vat­ives see as his ho­lier-than-thou cent­rist rhet­or­ic or vot­ing re­cord. Hanna was one of the few House Re­pub­lic­ans to vote against de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood this year. And with state As­semb­ly­wo­man Claudia Ten­ney con­sid­er­ing a re­peat bid against Hanna after nearly up­set­ting him in 2014, Hanna went on the ra­dio this month and breathed life in­to an­oth­er of the Demo­crats’ key at­tacks: that the spe­cial com­mit­tee formed to in­vest­ig­ate the Benghazi at­tacks was in fact an anti-Hil­lary Clin­ton witch hunt or­ches­trated for polit­ic­al pur­poses.

“There was a big part of this in­vest­ig­a­tion that was de­signed to go after people and an in­di­vidu­al, Hil­lary Clin­ton,” Hanna said.

The com­ment made na­tion­al head­lines, but Ten­ney said it came as no sur­prise after she spent the 2014 cam­paign cri­ti­ciz­ing Hanna for be­ing one of the very last Re­pub­lic­ans to sup­port cre­at­ing the com­mit­tee in the first place.

“It’s pretty con­sist­ently Richard Hanna,” Ten­ney said. “I think he’s du­pli­cit­ous, but I think it’s con­sist­ently Richard Hanna.”

Hanna’s com­ments add fuel to hard-line con­ser­vat­ives’ hopes of knock­ing him out of Con­gress in 2016. Ten­ney won more than 46 per­cent of the 2014 GOP primary vote des­pite run­ning a shoes­tring cam­paign—and fa­cing heav­ier spend­ing from not only Hanna’s cam­paign but a su­per PAC that backs pro-same-sex mar­riage Re­pub­lic­ans.

Hanna spent $564,000 lead­ing up to last cycle’s primary, while Ten­ney spent $112,000, ac­cord­ing to FEC fil­ings. And Amer­ic­an Unity PAC, the su­per PAC, ad­ded about $665,000, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

Be­cause Amer­ic­an Unity PAC spent so much—and the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Mar­riage, a con­ser­vat­ive group that pro­motes “one man, one wo­man” mar­riage laws, made a much smal­ler $25,000 in­vest­ment—last year’s race was seen as a battle over same-sex mar­riage. But Ten­ney said there ac­tu­ally wasn’t enough fo­cus on so­cial is­sues. Amer­ic­an Unity PAC’s ads didn’t ad­dress Hanna’s sup­port for gay mar­riage or Ten­ney’s op­pos­i­tion; in­stead, the PAC ran TV spots at­tack­ing Ten­ney for votes on state-level taxes.

“There wasn’t a single word, there wasn’t a single prin­ted piece, there wasn’t a TV ad, there wasn’t a single dis­cus­sion of same-sex mar­riage in the en­tire cam­paign,” she said. “… It was en­tirely a false flag cam­paign, it was try­ing to por­tray me as a lib­er­al and Richard Hanna as a con­ser­vat­ive.”

Philip Klinkner, a pro­fess­or of gov­ern­ment at Hamilton Col­lege in Hanna’s dis­trict, agreed that Amer­ic­an Unity PAC tried to dis­tract voters last cycle.

“It really was rather disin­genu­ous on their part,” said Klinkner, a Demo­crat.

In 2016, Ten­ney will con­tin­ue at­tack­ing Hanna’s re­cord not only on same-sex mar­riage but also on his Planned Par­ent­hood vote, she said. But she could face an­oth­er big-money on­slaught: Amer­ic­an Unity PAC is “fully in sup­port of Richard Hanna,” said spokes­wo­man Christine Bar­atta, who did not add any­thing about their spe­cif­ic plans for 2016.

Hanna can also count on help from the Re­pub­lic­an Main Street Part­ner­ship, a group that has spent mil­lions of dol­lars back­ing mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans. Main Street COO Sarah Cham­ber­lain said the group will back Hanna if Ten­ney enters the race.

But the money race isn’t likely to be so lop­sided if Ten­ney runs a second time, Klinkner said.

“Giv­en how well Ten­ney did in the last cycle, some groups like the Club for Growth, some of the more tea-party con­ser­vat­ive groups would be more likely to give her money” in 2016, know­ing she could launch a vi­able cam­paign, Klinkner said.

Club for Growth spokes­man Doug Sach­tleben would only say that his or­gan­iz­a­tion is watch­ing the race. (Hanna’s life­time vote rat­ing from the Club is just 47 per­cent and has fallen each of the past three years.) NOM, which is far less well-fun­ded, said it will back Ten­ney if she gets in the race—and that they would con­sider sup­port­ing a Demo­crat against Hanna if he wins his primary.

First, Ten­ney has to make a de­cision on wheth­er she ac­tu­ally wants to run. And she’ll have to make that de­cision soon in or­der to launch a strong cam­paign for the June primary. When asked re­cently by a loc­al col­lege stu­dent if she would run again, Ten­ney tweeted that it was “not likely,” but she back­tracked in a con­ver­sa­tion with Na­tion­al Journ­al. “I was just re­spond­ing—it was more of a Twit­ter de­bate with someone than it was a ser­i­ous [sug­ges­tion] that I’m not,” she said.

“If … I can put to­geth­er a cred­ible cam­paign and see a clear path to vic­tory,” Ten­ney con­tin­ued, “then I’ll def­in­itely give it a shot.”

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