The 2020 presidential race is barely off the ground, but the left-field candidate announcements are starting to roll in. The latest is from Democrat Richard Ojeda, a West Virginia state representative and former Army major, The Intercept announced yesterday. Ojeda ran for Congress in the state’s third district and lost by 12 points. In a district that Donald Trump carried in 2016 by 49 points, that’s still pretty impressive.
Though Ojeda is a Democrat, he supported Trump in 2016. He says he was unwilling to support Hillary Clinton after she beat Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and turned to Trump as a last resort. That history would be a major weakness if his campaign gains momentum.
From The Intercept:
“I have been a Democrat ever since I registered to vote, and I’ll stay a Democrat, but that’s because of what the Democratic Party was supposed to be,” he told The Intercept. “The reason why the Democratic Party fell from grace is because they become nothing more than elitist, that was it. Goldman Sachs, that’s who they were. The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that fights for the working class and that’s exactly what I do. I will stand with unions wholeheartedly and that’s the problem — the Democratic Party wants to say that, but their actions do not mirror that.”
Shortly after Trump took office, Ojeda rescinded his support.
“We have a person that has come down to areas like Appalachia and has tried…and has convinced these people that he is for them, when in reality the people that he has convinced couldn’t even afford to play one round of golf on his fancy country club,” he told The Intercept.
As a state senator, Ojeda has pushed for cannabis legalization. During his unsuccessful Congressional campaign, he frequently spoke about the opiate epidemic, laying the blame on Big Pharma.
Despite the many challenges his candidacy would face, Ojeda believes he has what it takes to win the nomination.
“We’re going to have quite a few lifetime politicians that are going to throw their hat in the ring, but I guarantee you there’s going to be a hell of a lot more of them than there are people like myself that is, a working-class person that basically can relate to the people on the ground, the people that are actually struggling,” he told the Intercept.
Ojeda would be a hard sell to a Democratic Party that sees young women of color as its future. His vote for Trump in 2016 is the opposite of what many people believe will energize the Democratic base. Even with an economically populist message, it’s concerning that Ojeda overlooked Trump’s racism and sexism during the campaign. He told The Intercept that it isn’t due to a lack of understanding on his part about the struggles faced by people of color or women.
“I can understand [Black Lives Matter] far better than the millionaires and billionaires sitting around the conference tables in Washington, D.C. That’s a fact. Guess what? I’ve worked side-by-side with those people, I’ve served in the military with the people that lived in those communities,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine someone like Ojeda making it through all the hurdles to the Democratic nomination—raising money, securing party support, creating a consistent narrative from his unorthodox political past. It’s probably also the case that Ojeda will not even make it into a televised debate. But lest we forget: Donald Trump is president. Anything can happen.