President Trump has plenty of supporters in Congress. Then there’s Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee may be the most ardent and aggressive Trump loyalist in Washington. Most notably, he’s used his position atop the traditionally nonpartisan House Intelligence Committee to compromise the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Trump has been thrilled. In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, the president suggested Nunes should be awarded the Medal of Honor, later clarifying that Nunes should win the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a president can bequeath on a civilian. “What he’s gone through and his bravery, he should get a very important medal,” Trump said.
Nunes is up for reelection in November, and he’s run into a little trouble back home in Fresno, California. Though the eight-term congressman is leading in the polls, Democratic challenger Andrew Janz has mounted an inspired campaign to unseat Trump’s most loyal lawmaker. Last week, the conservative district’s largest paper, the Fresno Bee, officially endorsed Janz, which would have been unthinkable before Nunes went rogue in his allegiance to the president. “For the good of the 22nd District and the nation, the choice is clear: Andrew Janz,” the endorsement’s headline read. The Fresno Bee had endorsed Nunes in all of his previous congressional campaigns.
Like Trump, Nunes waged an all-out war on the media. Nunes has repeatedly bashed the Bee, calling it a “rag” that is “working with radical left-wing groups to promote fake news stories.” He even mailed out a glossy, 40-page mailer filled with propaganda attacking the paper, which has been critical of Nunes’ actions in Congress since Trump took office. He didn’t skimp on the graphic design budget.
Corrected: The trickle down effect of Trump's war on "fake news:" Devin Nunes made a 40-Page (!) glossy mailer devoted to attacking the @FresnoBee. Also aired a 2-minute (!) TV and radio ad claiming the Bee is one on a “crusade” against him. https://t.co/PSmhonvv7v pic.twitter.com/UhfvVpy1D0
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) October 3, 2018
Despite his anti-media campaign, the Bee gave Nunes every opportunity to gain its endorsement. Before reaching the decision, the paper sought to sit down with both candidates. Nunes wasn’t interested. “The Bee sent two invitations to Nunes to attend such a meeting; not once did he reply,” the paper wrote. “Janz, by contrast, made time to sit down and discuss the issues. For that reason — and more — he has earned the recommendation.”
In addition to shunning the Bee, Nunes has refused to debate Janz. He’s also done all he can to avoid interacting with voters. Though he has — probably correctly — assumed that he can turn his back on his district and still win reelection, Nunes’ indifference has been a boon to Janz’s campaign, which raised $4.3 million in the third quarter of 2018. This may pale in comparison to the record $38.1 million Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) raised for his campaign to replace Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the Senate, it dwarves the totals raised by previous Nunes challengers. Meanwhile, the Republican mega-donors have been forced to spend money in a race that normally wouldn’t have required so much attention.
The Koch Brothers and corporations are dumping millions into my race in an attempt to save Devin Nunes. His supporters are also trespassing and vandalizing my supporters’ property. Help me fight back! Donate here: https://t.co/ZMR1Z3tABc pic.twitter.com/PVeIRFysDx
— Andrew Janz (@JanzforCongress) October 8, 2018
The Democratic establishment has chosen not to expend any resources trying to get Janz elected, which the Bee cited as a reason he wouldn’t be indebted to the party should he make it to Washington. The paper painted Janz as a moderate Democrat frustrated with some of the party’s leaders. “Janz also wants to change his party’s leadership in the House, meaning he does not back Nancy Pelosi, the San Franciscan who is the minority leader and is anathema to many in the Valley. Rather, he is looking for someone who can be less polarizing and more solution oriented.”
The endorsement went on to criticize Nunes for voting in favor of the re-tooled version of the Affordable Care Act, which would have immediately stripped 74,000 of his constituents of their health-care coverage. The paper also attacked his blind loyalty to Trump, writing that voters can “choose Nunes and remain stuck with the damaging partisanship he practices, the party-above-country mode that motivates him to protect President Trump from the investigation into Russian meddling more than meet his constitutional obligations as an independent arm of government. Then there is his lack of regard for the needs of his part of California.”
Despite the Bee‘s endorsement, Janz is still a big underdog in the traditionally conservative district with a large farming community. A poll released last week by the University of California at Berkley had Nunes up 53 percentage points to Janz’s 45. Trump won the district by close to 10 percentage points in 2016. Nunes won his last reelection campaign over Democratic challenger Louie Campos by over 35 percentage points.