In the Race to Succeed Mark Meadows, Can Dan Driscoll Break Out from the Pack?

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Dan Driscoll (Campaign ad image via YouTube)

A young veteran makes his case in an eleven-way primary.

With all eyes on the Democratic presidential race, it’s difficult for candidates running in down-ballot primaries on Super Tuesday to get much attention. It’s even more challenging when there are eleven candidates running for their party’s nomination in one congressional race, as is the case in the Republican campaign to succeed retiring North Carolina representative Mark Meadows.

“Basically, what the local papers have all said is there’s too many people running and they want to try to give people equal coverage,” said Dan Driscoll, a young Republican Iraq War veteran running to replace Meadows, in a phone interview on Sunday. With the local media not particularly interested in the race, Driscoll has instead relied on grassroots campaigning: “We have 25 guys who deployed with me to Iraq . . . making calls to voters.”

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The good news for Driscoll, as he tours VFW halls and those who served with him call voters across the district, is that he has a winning story to tell: After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, the North Carolina native attended Army Ranger school and was then deployed to Iraq. When he got home, he attended Yale Law School on the G.I. bill. He graduated from Yale in 2014 and has worked for the last several years investing in businesses across his home state.

The bad news for the political newcomer is that he faces formidable candidates in tomorrow’s primary. State senator Jim Davis has an advantage as the only elected official in the race. And realtor Lynda Bennett has the backing of the outgoing Meadows, a powerful Trump loyalist who announced his surprise retirement just 30 hours before the filing deadline in what some saw as a (failed) attempt to help her — a friend of his wife — by keeping other strong candidates from entering the race.

A recent report showed that Bennett has had the most money spent on her behalf by outside groups, including House Freedom Action, which backs members of the House Freedom Caucus that Meadows used to chair. But spending on Driscoll hasn’t lagged too far behind, thanks in part to support from the With Honor super PAC, which backs veterans from both parties. Driscoll has also earned the support of other veterans in Congress, including Arkansas senator Tom Cotton and Illinois representative Adam Kinzinger.

As is the case in many Republican primaries, the candidates are trying to tie themselves as closely to President Trump as possible. For Driscoll, that has meant rolling out a TV ad hailing the president’s decision to authorize the targeted killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani while highlighting his own service in the Army. “When I served in Iraq, our unit encountered IEDs — the work of terrorists like Qassem Soleimani. The men I led all came home. We were lucky. President Trump killed Soleimani when others wouldn’t, saving American lives and keeping our country safe,” Driscoll says in the ad.

Asked Sunday what he makes of the president’s newly announced deal with the Afghan Taliban, Driscoll was diplomatic. “Putting American soldiers’ lives at risk is a difficult decision that President Trump has had to make during his time in office. I appreciate why it could feel like a win to de-risk that situation. I think the worry that I would have is that a strong American military abroad keeps America safe at home,” he said.

Driscoll can look toward the experience of Texas representative Dan Crenshaw for hope as he heads into tomorrow’s primary. Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, was written off in 2018 by most political observers because he was running in a Republican primary against a self-funding multimillionaire and a popular state representative, but he made it to the runoff by edging out the former by 145 votes. Of course, being a young veteran with an impressive biography isn’t a surefire way to win a Republican primary: Just last month, Purple Heart recipient Jason Church lost a primary to state senator Tom Tiffany in the northern Wisconsin race for GOP representative Sean Duffy’s House seat.

Although the campaign-finance numbers have been encouraging for Driscoll, there has been no public polling in the eleven-way race to succeed Meadows, so it’s hard to say where things stand heading into tomorrow. What is certain is that if no candidate gets at least 30 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will head to a runoff election on May 12. Driscoll’s had to navigate a crowded field to get this far, and his quest for the party’s nomination may not end on Super Tuesday.

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