Where Things Stand: Complicated, 11th Hour Affair Allegation Ends Texas GOP Incumbent’s Reelection Bid

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UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 26: Rep. Van Taylor, R-Texas, leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference at Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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“She was just annoyed at having to see her ex-lover’s face on billboards as she drove around Plano.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, that was Plano, Texas resident Tania Joya’s justification for spilling the beans about an affair she had with incumbent Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX) to one of his opponents ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

Look, we’ve all been there.

But there’s a lot of other stuff going on here — far more, in fact, than Joya’s very valid logic. Let’s unpack.

Joya lives in Taylor’s district. The two-term incumbent was one of five Republicans in the area running in the primary for the GOP nomination for the House seat. Ahead of Tuesday’s election, early voting totals pegged Taylor as the winner; he held almost 52 percent of early votes — enough to win him the Republican nomination, avoiding a runoff, if those numbers bore out through primary day.

But then Joya’s story emerged.

And so, the Republican didn’t secure a majority of votes on Tuesday night. He would have had to face former county judge Keith Self for the runoff in May.

Instead, he chose to drop out.

The whole story is a bit convoluted, so stick with me. Joya is “an ex-jihadist and widow of the most infamous American to join the Islamic State,” in the Dallas Morning News’ words. (British tabloids have apparently also referred to her as the “ISIS bride.”) Joya reportedly contacted one of Taylor’s primary opponents, Suzanne Harp, late last week to reveal she had had an affair with Taylor for about eight months in 2020–21.

Joya told the Dallas newspaper that she contacted Harp out of the hope that the candidate would confront Taylor privately with the information and he would resign from Congress and the race.

Harp took a different course of action: She reportedly sent one of her supporters to Joya’s home instead to interview her about the alleged infidelity. On Sunday, the right-wing news outlet National File published a story with lots of details about the then-alleged affair between Joya and Taylor. Breitbart seized on the news, publishing a similar story about Taylor on Monday, just one day before the primary election. By the time results were finalized Tuesday night, Taylor was 823 votes short of what he needed to secure the nomination, per Dallas Morning News.

So he was set to face the former local judge, Self, in May. Self had won just 26.5 percent of the vote Tuesday.

Texas outlet’s reports on the scandal are packed with a bunch of details that you should read if you’re interested, including allegations of a supposed $5,000 hush-money payment Taylor sent to Joya ahead of the election. (See: Dallas Morning News, Texas Tribune.)

But Joya herself is an interesting character. She was previously married to a man named John Georgelas who in 2013 moved his family with him to Syria after converting to Islam and working as a headhunter for the Islamic State. You may have seen the headlines back then. He changed his name and became the most well-known American to join and fight for ISIS.

Georgelas died in 2017 and his widowed wife Joya has since renounced her and her husband’s extremism. In fact, Joya reportedly met Rep. Taylor as part of her current work to help rehabilitate former extremists.

“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” Taylor told his supporters in an email Wednesday, according to The Texas Tribune. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life. I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters.”

It’s a bizarre story, and there is yet another layer to this. Taylor was one of just four other Republicans in Texas who voted to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, a key attack point for his primary challengers.

There’s your dose of weird for the day.

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