Quick quiz: how many House Democrats lost their re-election bids in 2016 to Republican challengers? It was a decent election cycle for the GOP – the party did win control of the White House, Senate, and House – so the number was probably pretty significant, right?
Wrong. The grand total of House Dems who lost their seats to Republican challengers in 2016 was one: Nebraska’s Brad Ashford, who lost to Rep. Don Bacon (R) by about 1% of the vote.
The Associated Press reported the other day that Ashford has come forward with information we didn’t know: months ahead of his narrow re-election defeat, Russian agents launched a cyber-attack on his campaign.
Former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford announced the breach on his Facebook page after the Justice Department filed an indictment alleging that 12 Russian military intelligence officers stole information from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party.
Ashford, who lost his seat to Republican Don Bacon by 3,464 votes, said hackers obtained all of his campaign’s email correspondence with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He said he was notified of the breach in the summer of 2016 by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office and was told that the Russians were likely responsible.
“I wasn’t concerned about anything that would be untoward or inappropriate (in the emails), because I knew there wasn’t anything like that,” Ashford said in an Associated Press interview. “I was fearful that they would know things about our campaign’s strategy and focus, and that it would somehow get into the hands of a dark money group. It was stuff you don’t want the other side to get.”
Ashford, who seems reluctant to sound like a sore loser, added, “I’m not suggesting that it cost me the election. But I do think it’s important for people in my district to know how close to home these Russians can get.”
It’s an important point, the significance of which extends well beyond Omaha, Nebraska.
When we think about Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign, much of the focus is on the presidential race, and for good reason: it wasn’t just the nation’s most important contest, it’s also one in which Russian operatives invested an enormous amount of time and energy. The consequences of their gambit will be felt for many years to come.
But we’re occasionally reminded that the Russian operation wasn’t solely focused on the top of the ballot: the effort also included one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races, which Republicans saw as a key pick-up opportunity.
As the 2018 midterms approach, expect similar efforts for similar reasons.
Postscript: In case this isn’t obvious, there’s no reason to believe Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, received or made use of the materials Russians stole from Ashford.