Iowa Democrat Drops Election Contest Due To ‘Toxic Campaign Of Political Disinformation’

UNITED STATES - Rita Hart (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
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March 31, 2021 5:36 p.m.

Rita Hart, the Democratic candidate in Iowa’s second district, has dropped her election contest before a House committee due to the “toxic campaign of political disinformation” spearheaded by national Republicans.

“Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” she said in a statement. “It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility.” 

Hart’s contest to the election, which was decided by just six votes, became a point of fixation for Republicans who clung to the challenge as evidence that Democrats were trying to steal an election. They also used the case to both-sides former President Donald Trump’s GOP-aided attempts to overthrow the 2020 election. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in particular was unrelenting in beating that drum, actually flying to Iowa on Wednesday to travel around with the Republican who is now officially a congresswomen, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA).

Hart filed a challenge under the Federal Contested Elections Act after the election, which kicked it to the House Administration Committee. Both sides had filed two rounds of briefs, and were into the discovery period. 

Hart and her lawyer, Marc Elias, made clear in the filings that their challenge centered on 22 ballots they believed were wrongly rejected and that, if added to the vote totals, would make Hart the winner. 

Elias directly took on the false GOP equivalency, pointing out that Hart was trying to get more votes counted, not to throw out millions of them on the basis of nonexistent fraud like Trump did. In his most recent brief, he adopted a more combative tone, accusing Miller-Meeks of trying to suppress votes in league with her party, citing the nationwide surge in voter restrictions from various GOP-controlled state legislatures and the party’s failure to consistently denounce the lies that fueled the January 6 insurrection.

The legal team for Miller-Meeks only cursorily participated in the exercise, filing very short briefs that chafed at having to go through the process at all. Republicans also frequently mentioned that Hart didn’t take her contest through state court first, though she had no legal requirement to do so and argued that she didn’t have time before state deadlines. 

Republicans also gravitated towards the case in the hopes of setting up vulnerable Democrats for an uncomfortable vote down the road. If the committee did find that Hart should be seated instead of Miller-Meeks, it would go to the full House for a vote. Republicans homed in on Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) in particular, the only Democrat in the Iowa delegation, and were already cutting ads accusing her of stealing an election. 

Democrats did try to fight back. Committee chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) sent out a press release bashing the Republican smear campaign, calling out McCarthy in particular for attacking the process, given that he has sat on the committee and dealt with contested elections before. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also fact-checked the Republicans at many recent press conferences. 

But the Republican messaging war won out, buoyed by the rightwing media ecosystem that amplified the faux outrage.

On Wednesday afternoon, a grinning McCarthy let a picture of him sitting side by side with Miller-Meeks speak for him.

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