With a beautiful border wall, a ban on Muslims and a declaration that former POW and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wasn’t a war hero, Donald Trump has been one heck of a phenomenon to behold. But, while he may be the most brazen Republican candidate in the spotlight today, he is just one of the many colorful Republicans seeking federal office in 2016.
Meet these five Republicans coming to a congressional race near you.
PINAL COUNTY SHERIFF PAUL BABEU (Arizona 1st)
You may remember Babeu as the tough-on-immigration sheriff who made his big debut in McCain’s 2010 “Complete The Danged Fence” ad where McCain accused undocumented immigrants of being responsible for “home invasions and murder.” In the ad Babeu tells McCain he’s “outmanned.” and the two lay out a plan to secure the border with national guard troops, 3,000 new border patrol agents and a completed border fence.
Now, Babeu is making his second run at Congress as he hopes to replace outgoing Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) in Arizona’s First District. Babeu dropped out of his first bid in 2012 after explosive allegations from his gay ex-lover, Jose Orozco. An undocumented immigrant, Orozco claimed that Babeu’s lawyer had been threatening him with deportation if he came forward about his love affair with Babeu. Orozco had worked as a campaign volunteer for Babeu, managing his website. The Arizona Attorney General’s office cleared Babeu of any abuse of power in the case, and Babeu has said his only regret was not coming forward about his sexual orientation sooner.
Babeu is not quite safe from controversy yet, however. According a local ABC News report, Babeu is now the target of FBI questions related to how the sheriff’s office has used confiscated crime money known as RICO funds. According to ABC15 News, the FBI was looking into whether “Babeu and other staff used any RICO funds or other public resources for campaign purposes since Babeu is currently running for Congress.” In January, the same ABC News outlet unveiled a 1999 home video of Babeu discussing how harsh treatment of children at a Massachusetts boarding school were working. He once was the headmaster of the school, but had said when allegations arose about the treatment of students there that he did not know about the punishments. His sister provided the holiday home movie to the television outlet.
Babeu dismissed the footage as nothing new and just an “attempt to use my mentally unstable sister to attack me.”
PAUL NEHLEN (Wisconsin 1st)
If you’re going to take on the House speaker and a past Republican vice presidential candidate, you can’t be tepid about it, and Paul Nehlen, a Tea Party businessman, jumped into his primary race for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) seat with a campaign video that was hard to ignore.
The video, titled “Truth Resurrection,” features a sleeveless and tattooed Nehlen cruising on a Wisconsin-made motorbike.
“We build some of the baddest bikes on the planet,” he says, over a generic rock rift, before suggesting Ryan is to blame for the decline of manufacturing in the Midwest. He then walks through what presumably is one of his factories, now wearing a suit and protective glasses, while dissing Ryan for his support of trade deals.
He challenges Ryan to a debate, and, if not that: “Maybe we can arm wrestle.”
Nehlen is very much riding the Trump wave by playing both the outsider and the businessman cards. In his campaign ad, he brags, “I build things, create jobs, jobs that allow people to pay their mortgage, put food on their table, put their kids through college.”
The Washington Times describes him as a “senior vice president of operations for a leading water filtration and disinfection technologies company,” adding that he also holds number of patents, “for filtration and manufacturing technologies, including processes that are involved in 3D printing.”
So far, it appears Nehlen isn’t posing much of a threat to Ryan’s popularity in his district. But his campaign is claiming that its “Dump Ryan” truck has been vandalized by a Ryan supporter because Nehlen has gotten under their skin.
MICHELE FIORE (Nevada 3rd)
Michele Fiore sells pin-up style calendars of herself posing with guns to raise money for her campaign. She helped negotiate the end of the 40-day Malheur Wildlife Refuge in February. Her gun-toting family posed together in what became one of the most talked about Christmas cards of 2015.
Fiore is a pro-gay rights, Second Amendment defending and pro-medical marijuana Republican Nevada assemblywoman who won her election to her state seat the old-fashioned way with personal door knocking and pasta feeds for 50 people at a time at her own home. She’s taken on powerful Gov. Brian Sandoval (also a Republican) with his budget proposal, has suggested that human trafficking could be stopped with “chemical castration or straight-up castration” program. And, she has taken heat in the past for controversial comments she made about shooting Syrian refugees.
“I’m about to fly to Paris and shoot ‘em in the head myself!” Fiore said on the radio when asked why she had not signed onto a letter blocking refugees from being settled in Nevada. Fiore said that no one had asked her to sign it. “I am not OK with Syrian refugees. I’m not OK with terrorists. I’m OK with putting them down, blacking them out, just put a piece of brass in their ocular cavity and end their miserable life. I’m good with that.”
When Fiore landed in the state assembly in 2012, she “had her name on 95 bills. The entire 42-person Assembly considered 578,” according to one report. One of her best known contributions during her tenure in the state assembly was a gun bill that allowed concealed carry at schools from elementary schools to college campuses.
Fiore received national attention during the 2014 Cliven Bundy standoff with BLM officials when she became an ardent supporter of Bundy on cable news. Since then she has argued she would point a gun at a BLM agent if they were pointing at her. She also said she would aim her gun at police if they were pointing one at her, a comment that led the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers to call her an “embarrassment.”
Fiore’s primary is June 14.
Clay Higgins (Louisiana 3rd) – He’s been called a “Cajun John Wayne.” Captain Clay Higgins became a well-known cop in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish mostly for his hokey crime stoppers segments that appeared on local TV. He is running for Congress in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District to succeed Rep. Charles Boustany (R), who is running for Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) seat.
His videos employed a certain get-off-my lawn tenor as he warned local shoplifters, vandals and gang members that he was coming for them.
After someone committed a theft at the local Stelly’s Supermarket, Higgins had a message for the criminal.
“Look at me, son. I’m talking to you. The sheriff likes Stelly’s restaurant and so do I. The food here is good and the folks are friendly. We’re going to identify you,” he said.
The videos became so famous that they were featured on Jimmy Fallon last July. At the time of the segment, Fallon asked, “Can that guy run for president?” He didn’t quite get his wish, but Fallon can watch Higgins’ congressional campaign.
The videos, however, could be a major liability for Higgins. One video became so controversial that Higgins resigned from the sheriff’s department after he called alleged members of the Gremlins Gang, which included many African Americans, “thugs” and “animals.”
“You will be hunted, you will be trapped, and if you raise your weapon to a man like me we will return fire with superior fire,” Higgins said in the video.
Higgins argued he was not forced to resign, but the local ACLU had criticized the crime stoppers video as being “inappropriate and incorrect.”
When Higgins announced he was running for Congress, he wore his cowboy hat and declared he wasn’t “running,” because he does not run for things. Instead, he said he was he “was descending into the belly of the beast, the leviathan of biblical proportions that has become our federal government.”
Kelli Ward (U.S. Senate, Arizona): It’s not good sign when your opponent’s chosen nickname for you involves a conspiracy theory that the government is secretly trying to contaminate its citizens through chemicals streaked across the sky. But that is just what John McCain’s campaign is trying to do with Kelli Ward or “Chemtrail Kelli,” as his latest campaign videos have called her.
Ward is a former state senator who in 2014 held a public hearing for constituents to air their concerns about “chemtrails,” an anti-government conspiracy theory that the water vapor streams that trail behind jets are actually chemicals the government is using to control the weather or even cause public health problems. Among those called upon to participate in the town hall were two employees for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which has denied that there was evidence that the vapor was some sort of contaminant.
Her Facebook post announcing the event said they would be available to “address community concerns about chemtrails.” She has since said that she did not “really have any opinions about ‘chemtrails’ one way or the other.”
Ward also was a cheerleader for Cliven Bundy’s showdown with federal officials at his Nevada ranch. She traveled to the ranch during the 2014 stand-off in a show of support.
Since resigning from the state senate to run against McCain, she has appeared on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show. Jones called McCain a “gangster” and warned to Ward to “watch your back.” Ward responded by agreeing with Jones and telling that “I’ve had people who have told me that. I should get an auto starter on my car, that I should never be starting my own car.”