Monday, May 20, 2024

J.R. Majewski, a Trump acolyte from Ohio whom House Republicans abandoned the first time he ran for Congress in the 2022 midterm elections after discrepancies in his military record emerged, is back as a candidate — and with some prominent G.O.P. names behind him.

Mr. Majewski, an Air Force veteran, picked up endorsements on Monday from Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio and Frank LaRose, Ohio’s secretary of state, in his Republican primary as he seeks to challenge Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, for a second time in the Ninth District.

The show of support contrasted sharply with the National Republican Congressional Committee’s canceling its ads for Mr. Majewski during the final six weeks of his 2022 race, which he lost by 13 percentage points to Ms. Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in congressional history.

The committee pulled the plug after The Associated Press reported that the Air Force had no record of Mr. Majewski, 44, serving in Afghanistan, which he continues to claim that he did, and drew attention to a series of inconsistencies about his military record. Mr. Majewski has vehemently disputed the reporting.

The endorsements came just days after the release of a secret recording of Craig Riedel, a rival G.O.P. candidate and a former state legislator, telling a Republican donor that he would not support former President Donald J. Trump and did not want his endorsement. It was obtained by Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump grass-roots group.

Not long after, Mr. Riedel announced that he was endorsing Mr. Trump. But the damage appeared to have been done, with at least one prominent Republican in Ohio (Representative Max Miller, a former Trump adviser) saying that he no longer supported Mr. Riedel, who lost to Mr. Majewski in the 2022 Republican primary.

Mr. Riedel accused one of Mr. Majewski’s top MAGA boosters, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, of setting him up.

“Matt Gaetz and a social media trickster pulled a stunt yesterday to try and convince President Trump to get involved in my congressional primary for proven loser JR Majewski,” Mr. Riedel wrote on X.

Mr. Trump, who endorsed Mr. Majewski in 2022, heralded him on Saturday while both attended a New York Young Republican Club gala, blaming the “deep state” for undermining Mr. Majewski during his last run.

“We stuck by him,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “They played dirty pool, but you’ll get a second shot, right?”

Erica Knight, a spokeswoman for Mr. Majewski, said in a text message that he was expecting to be endorsed by Mr. Trump again.

A campaign spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Riedel has received endorsements from Republicans considered more mainstream, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, before he was deposed as speaker of the House, and Americans for Prosperity Action, a political network founded by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. The group has spent nearly $250,000 on Mr. Riedel’s behalf this election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Riedel did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to The New York Times on Tuesday, Mr. Gaetz denied orchestrating the secret recording.

“Craig Riedel trashed Trump when he thought it would help him get a New Yorker to give him money,” he said. “We have enough people willing to say and do anything for campaign cash in Congress already. Craig Riedel exposed himself in his own words. I had nothing to do with it, though I wish I had.”

Aidan Johnson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement called the Republican primary contest an “ugly and expensive race to the bottom.”

Steve Lankenau, a former mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, is also running in the Republican primary.

While Mr. Majewski has frequently promoted himself as a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Air Force records obtained by The Times show that he deployed for six months in 2002 to Qatar, which is now home to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East.

According to military records, the Air Force demoted Mr. Majewski in September 2001 for driving drunk at Kadena Air Base in Japan, contradicting his earlier account that he could not re-enlist in the Air Force after his initial four years because of a “brawl.”

The inconsistencies in Mr. Majewski’s public accounts of his military service brought renewed scrutiny during the last election cycle, when he was already facing questions about his presence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and sympathies for the QAnon conspiracy movement.

In August 2023, more than nine months after Mr. Majewski’s defeat, the military updated his records to reflect that he had received a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal for his service, an honor created in 2003 for Air Force members who deployed abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But Afghanistan is just one of several dozen countries, including Qatar, that count toward eligibility. That has not stopped Mr. Majewski and his allies, including Mr. Trump, from claiming that he was “totally exonerated.”

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