At least 10 Republican candidates who won primaries for statewide or federal office this year have claimed they were in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of former President Donald Trump marched to the Capitol to interrupt the peaceful transition of power and the ensuing riot eventually turned violent. Five people died in connection with the riot, including a police officer. Another four officers died by suicide in the days, weeks and months after the assault on the Capitol.
All 10 non-incumbent candidates have denied or cast doubt on the 2020 election results. Three of the 10 candidates could win congressional seats in November, which would take them from election-denying protesters to sitting members of Congress. Another stands to become the chief election official in Arizona.
Democrats have spent little time or money focused on ads highlighting the Jan. 6 activities of these candidates. According to the ad-tracking firm, AdImpact, just $2.7 million out of $163 million of broadcast TV ad dollars went to House races where a candidate was at or near the Capitol on Jan. 6. In many cases, Democratic groups actually tried to boost some of the election-denying candidates during the primary season, calculating that they would be weaker opponents for Democrats in the general election.
Here’s a list of 10 candidates who were at or near the Capitol on Jan. 6:
Derrick Van Orden, GOP nominee, Wisconsin, 3rd Congressional District
Derrick Van Orden, the Republican nominee for Wisconsin’s 3rd District, was among the demonstrators outside the Capitol, according to an op-ed he wrote for the LaCrosse Tribune and other published reports. In that op-ed, published a week after the attack, Van Orden wrote, “At no time did I enter the grounds, let alone the building.” He claimed to have been on the outside, saying he had “stood on the parapet that lines the perimeter of the grounds.” On Jan. 6, 2021, he also denounced in a tweet “all forms of political violence regardless of what side commits it.”
The Daily Beast reported that photos from Jan. 6 show Van Orden “had to cross police barricades to reach that area.” Van Orden disputed the article but has offered no further clarification.
He has not responded to CBS News’ request for comment.
The Trump-endorsed candidate hopes to succeed Democrat Ron Kind, who has represented the 3rd District since 1997 and is retiring at the end of his current term. Kind beat Van Orden by less than three points in 2020. Van Orden, a former Navy Seal and actor, and state Sen. Brad Pfaff, a Democrat who represents Wisconsin’s 32nd District, are now vying for the open seat.
Although the district has been held by a Democrat for over two decades, projections by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics show the race is currently leaning in favor of Van Orden. Republican-aligned PACs are outspending Democrats in online and TV advertising. Axios also reported the House Majority PAC, which supports Democratic candidates, plans to cancel some of the remaining ad reservations for Pfaff. Pfaff countered with an ad highlighting Van Orden’s Jan. 6 activities, hoping to convince voters to reject him. The Associated Press reported, the Republican electorate in Wisconsin doesn’t appear to care about his connection to Jan. 6.
Sandy Smith, GOP nominee, North Carolina, 1st Congressional District
Sandy Smith, who is making her second run at a Congressional seat, tweeted on Jan. 6, 2021 “In DC fighting for Trump! Just marched from the monument to the Capitol!” Her participation didn’t deter Republican voters in the 1st District in North Carolina, despite the House GOP-aligned PAC running ads attacking her ahead of the Republican primary. She prevailed against seven other candidates in the May primary and went on to receive Trump’s endorsement last month.
In 2020, Smith also won the Republican primary but lost in the general election to Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield. After her defeat, she tweeted, “I ran for congress. Did better than anyone ever did in this district on the Republican side. Dominion was used in my district. My polling had me ahead. Yet somehow my opponent got truckloads of ballots without even campaigning. No audit. No precinct breakdown. Total sham! #NC01”. According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Dominion voting machines were not used in any elections in the state.
Butterfield, a long-time congressman and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, announced his retirement after redistricting made North Carolina’s 1st District friendlier to Republicans. Predictions indicate the race is leaning toward the Democratic nominee Donald Davis, a state senator who represents the 5th Legislative District.
J.R. Majewski, GOP nominee, Ohio, 9th Congressional District
“When everything started to happen…we all left. I was responsible for 60-70 people at the Capitol. I had multiple people get injured but I made sure they made it back to our hotel. It was a terrible experience,” Majewski said in an interview with Toledo TV station WTOL in April 2021. “It was one that was supposed to be great.”
But as a candidate, Majewski’s record has come under scrutiny for other reasons. He claimed that he served the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. Military records obtained by the Associated Press revealed that he never deployed to Afghanistan. The AP said that Majewski’s campaign, when asked about his records, “did not directly address questions about his claim of deploying to Afghanistan.” A subsequent AP report noted that his campaign claimed that he was demoted and punished after a “brawl,” but military records and show that he was, in fact, demoted and punished for drunk driving on a U.S. air base in Japan. Majewski, according to the AP, acknowledged in a statement that he had been punished for drunk driving but did not say why his campaign had attributed his demotion to a brawl.
Last month, the National Republican Congressional Committee, withdrew ads for Majewski.
Although the Republican party “has no hesitation about backing candidates who either were there at the Capitol or who endorsed the ridiculous election lies of Donald Trump,” Sabato surmised that they are merely “being pragmatic” in light of the popularity of these candidates with GOP voters. The race is now leaning in favor of Majewski’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
Leon Benjamin Sr., GOP nominee, Virginia, 4th Congressional District
Leon Benjamin Sr., a pastor and military veteran, ran uncontested in the Republican primary and now he heads to the general election as the GOP candidate for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. It’s his second attempt to unseat Democratic incumbent, Rep. Donald McEachin. In 2020, McEachin defeated Benjamin by over 22 points, but Benjamin continues to claim that the election was stolen.
According to photos and a live-stream video he posted on Facebook, Benjamin was in Washington on Jan. 6. The photos show him at the Ellipse during Trump’s speech and near the Capitol. He wrote, “Virginia we are ready for the next step. Do not lose heart. Leadership is coming out of you: those who love America, Fair and Just Elections, God, Family and Constitutional Republic! #PatriotParty #benjamin4congress #FlipTheFourth.”
Jo Rae Perkins, GOP nominee, Oregon, U.S. Senate
Jo Rae Perkins, is making another longshot bid for U.S. Senate in Oregon, after an unsuccessful campaign in 2020 against incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley. Records show Perkins first filed to run for U.S. Senate in Oregon in 2013.
In the May 2022 primary, Perkins beat six other Republican candidates. Now, she’s facing incumbent Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. Wyden has held the position since 1996 and is up 17 points, according to a recent Civiqs poll.
Perkins has touted Q-Anon conspiracy theories and election lies. She also attended Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, and she told CBS Portland affiliate KOIN that she walked up to the exterior of the Capitol building but did not enter. Perkins falsely claimed members of Antifa were at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Jeff Zink, Arizona, 3rd Congressional District
“I can give you a first-hand account” of Jan. 6, said Jeff Zink, the GOP nominee for Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District. Zink, an “America First” Republican, is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Ruben Gallego.
Zink has said he did not enter the Capitol and didn’t participate in the violence. “At no time did I, nor my son Ryan enter the building, trespass or damage any property of the United States,” he told Texas station WCBD. Furthermore, the allegations that my son physically assaulted ANYONE are completely unfounded, without evidence or merit, and politically motivated.”
But his son, Ryan Zink, was indicted for obstruction of an official proceeding, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and multiple counts of disorderly conduct. Ryan Zink pleaded not guilty on all counts. The FBI statement of facts shows Ryan Zink saying in a video, “We knocked down the gates! We’re storming the Capitol! You can’t stop us!” Jeff Zink said his son was “incarcerated for six weeks.”
Tina Forte, New York, 14th Congressional District
Republican Tina Forte’s prospects of beating popular Democratic incumbent Alexandra Ocasio- Cortez are slim in New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. In 2020, Ocasio-Cortez beat her Republican challenger by a 44.2-point margin.
Still, Forte won the August Republican primary against challenger Desi Joseph Cuellar with over 65% of the vote. As of Sept. 30, she has raised nearly $1 million, according to federal campaign finance data.
On Jan. 6, Forte live-streamed video near the Capitol with other demonstrators. The video shows her standing in front of a poster of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with fangs. In a statement, Forte wrote, “I absolutely did NOT enter the Capitol building.” Last month, NY1 spoke with Forte, who said she joined demonstrators in Washington on Jan. 6 “to shine light on the election.” She added, “I’m not going to say I regret it because I don’t.”
Three Republican nominees seeking statewide office in 2022, were also among the rally-goers and rioters in Washington on Jan. 6. Polling shows one of the demonstrators could be the next secretary of state in Arizona.
Mark Finchem, GOP nominee, Arizona, secretary of state
Mark Finchem, the current state representative for Arizona’s 11th Legislative District and the Republican nominee for secretary of state, was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. The Arizona Mirror reported that images of Finchem captured that day showed him walking in front of the east steps of the Capitol. In a recent interview with CBS News, when asked why he was in Washington, Finchem responded that he was “representing [his] constituents.” He declined to acknowledge if President Joe Biden’s presidential win was legitimate. Finchem was also subpoenaed and interviewed by the Jan. 6 House select committee, as a “witness,” he clarified.
As secretary of state, Finchem would oversee Arizona’s elections through the 2024 election. He assures his “commitment is to just follow the law,” but added, “we also need to have an elections procedure manual that reflects current law.” Current Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is running for governor in Arizona against Republican Kari Lake.
Doug Mastriano, GOP nominee, Pennsylvania governor
Several candidates, including Doug Mastriano and Dan Cox, arranged for buses to drive demonstrators to Washington on Jan. 6. Mastriano, a Republican state senator and GOP gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, spent thousands of dollars on chartered buses and posted an event on Facebook charging $10-$25 for bus rides to D.C. on Jan. 6, according to NPR member station WHYY.
Mastriano said he did not cross police lines at the Capitol and left when the protests turned violent, which he does not condone. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee report, video footage shows Mastriano and his wife on the grounds of the Capitol behind police lines. Democrats have called on Mastriano to release the footage taken on his phone on Jan. 6 to prove his version of events. Mastriano briefly spoke with the Jan. 6 House select committee in August but soon after filed a lawsuit, against the committee, for refusing to allow him to record the testimony.
A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll released in October showed Mastriano trailing his Democratic challenger Josh Shapiro, by double digits.
Dan Cox, GOP nominee, Maryland governor
On Jan. 6, Dan Cox, a Maryland state delegate and the Republican nominee for governor of Maryland, called then-Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor,” In a statement after the attack, Cox wrote in Maryland Matters that because it was so crowded that the group he was with “could not approach the capitol” and “left early for the bus ride home and of course did not participate in any violence.”
Democrats boosted Cox, who was endorsed by Trump ahead of the Republican primaries in the heavily Democratic state. Cox beat Kelly Shulz, the Republican candidate endorsed by Maryland’s term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan. Now, Cox faces Democrat Wes Moore in the race for governor.
Cox, who has touted election lies and conspiracy theories, is trailing Moore by 32-points, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. Hogan, a moderate Republican, has harshly criticized Cox, calling him a “QAnon whack job.” In a recent interview with CBS News, Hogan said, “It should be a huge year for Republicans. But we haven’t always nominated the strongest candidates for a general election.”