Rich GOP Senate Contenders Face Attacks Over China, Out-of-State Mansions

(Bloomberg) -- Republicans boast their rich Senate candidates give them a $100 million advantage in critical races, but Democrats are attacking the baggage the political newcomers are bringing to the contests.

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The wealthy Republicans, all endorsed by Donald Trump, include a hedge fund chief executive officer whose firm invested in Chinese weapons makers, a car dealer who sold Chinese-made Buicks and a bank CEO who suggested most nursing home residents aren’t competent to vote. A fourth businessman-turned-candidate lied about a gunshot wound.

The stakes are high. If just one is elected, Republicans are virtually assured of winning the Senate majority and consequently crucial leverage in the struggle shaping up next year over extending Trump’s expiring tax cuts.

Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, who jumped from plastics to the Senate, encourages the candidates to lean in to their business success. “They should ask the question, ‘What, should I apologize for being successful? Should I apologize for living the American dream?’” Johnson said.

With their wealth comes the ability to spend $20 million to $40 million from their own wallets, worth more than $100 million in spending by outside groups, which pay higher television ad rates, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said.

David McCormick, the former Bridgewater Associates CEO running in Pennsylvania, faces attacks for investments the hedge fund made in China, including companies that build fighter jets, bombers and the country’s first domestically built aircraft carrier.

Democrats also portray him as a carpetbagger, though McCormick grew up in the small Pennsylvania town of Bloomsburg, where his father was a university president. They point to his frequent travel to Connecticut, and the Associated Press reported last year he still rented a $16 million mansion. Opponents pounced when McCormick mispronounced Pennsylvania’s iconic Yuengling beer “yangling” instead of “yingling” on a podcast.

That reprises a strategy Pennsylvania Democratic Senator John Fetterman used just two years ago to defeat Republican Mehmet Oz, a wealthy TV personality who had been a long-time resident of neighboring New Jersey. “It’s going to be the sequel,” Fetterman said.

McCormick, a West Point graduate who fought in the first Gulf War and served in the George W. Bush administration, has said he thinks voters will understand trips to Connecticut, where one of his daughters from a previous marriage goes to school.

Senator Bob Casey, the Democratic incumbent, is pushing both lines of attack. McCormick “increased investments in China by over 100,000%” and was “not only investing in China, but investing for China,” Casey said.

Bloomberg reported in 2021 that Bridgewater managed about $5 billion on behalf of China’s government.

The McCormick campaign touted the candidate’s seven generations of Pennsylvania roots, earlier work as the CEO of a Pittsburgh-based company and dinged Casey for voting with President Joe Biden nearly all of the time.

Bernie Moreno, a former car dealer and blockchain entrepreneur running to defeat Sherrod Brown in Rust Belt Ohio, is under attack for having sold Chinese-made Buick Envision SUVs. The Moreno campaign said he stopped accepting them from General Motors after the company closed its Lordstown factory in northeastern Ohio.

Democrats have also seized on lawsuits against Moreno for failing to pay overtime, including one where a judge sanctioned him for having shredded documents the court determined he should have kept, Business Insider reported. The New York Times also reported that despite Moreno frequently describing a humble immigrant upbringing, he was born into a prominent, wealthy family in Colombia.

A Moreno spokesperson said he took care of his employees, turned over all relevant data in overtime lawsuits and criticized related court rulings extending overtime pay rules to sales positions paid by commission as judicial activism.

Eric Hovde, the chairman and CEO of Utah-based Sunwest Bank running in Wisconsin to unseat Tammy Baldwin, has been attacked by Democrats for having a mansion in California, where his bank used to be based and where he was named several times as one of Orange County’s most influential people.

Hovde sought to prove his Wisconsin bona fides by plunging shirtless into an icy lake, declaring the activity “not safe for Californians and career politicians.” He has highlighted his family’s four generations in the state, where he grew up, runs a real estate business and lives with his family.

He faced blowback for suggesting almost no nursing home residents are “at a point to vote” in elections, though he later sought to clarify that he wasn’t saying elderly people shouldn’t vote.

Hovde spokesman Ben Voelkel said Democrats were “grasping at straws” in their attacks and criticized Baldwin as a career politician who has supported Biden’s border and economic policies.

Tim Sheehy, an entrepreneur who netted about $75 million from the sale of an aerial surveillance technology company, founded aerial firefighting company Bridger Aerospace and owns a massive cattle ranch, is running to unseat Montana Democrat Jon Tester.

Sheehy, a decorated Navy Seal who served in combat in Afghanistan, has underscored his military record. In one recent ad, a fellow veteran credits Sheehy with helping save his life after they both were wounded in an explosion.

But one of Sheehy’s war stories has come under scrutiny. The Washington Post in April reported a National Park Service ranger’s statement accompanying a 2015 citation saying Sheehy told the ranger he wounded himself in the arm that day when his gun accidentally discharged.

Sheehy, who was cited for illegally discharging a firearm in a national park, told the newspaper he lied to the ranger in order to protect his former platoon-mates from a possible military investigation into an unreported Afghanistan war wound. He told The Post he never reported the gunshot wound to his superiors and wasn’t sure whether he was shot by someone else in his unit or the enemy.

Tester, for his part, is attacking him as a short-timer. Sheehy grew up in Minnesota before he joined the Navy and later settled in Montana.

“They get people with thick wallets that don’t know the state,” said Tester, a third-generation Montana farmer. “He ain’t a Montanan and he don’t know Montana.”

Sheehy, in a recent Fox Business interview, said “they are attacking me and my family and my service because they are unable to talk about the issues that are at stake in this election.” The issues he cited were inflation, immigration and crime. “It’s just sad that this is where we are at for political discourse,” the candidate added.

--With assistance from Bill Allison.

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