Controversial Ohio GOP congressional candidate considers dropping out (again)

Controversial Ohio GOP congressional candidate considers dropping out (again)

J.R. Majewski, the controversial Ohio congressional candidate, has told people he plans to drop out of his battleground House race just days after early voting began in the Republican primary.

Majewski, who lost his 2022 bid after news reports indicated he lied about serving in combat in Afghanistan, confirmed to POLITICO that he was seriously considering ending his 2024 campaign but said he had not yet made a decision. He said he told people “what they want to hear” to keep them “at bay” while he figured out his future.

“I’m being asked by some people to drop out,” Majewski said in a brief interview. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do yet.”

He acknowledged that his recent controversy over disparaging comments about the Special Olympics had changed the dynamic of the race and that he may struggle in a general election against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Majewski told at least two people that he is in talks to take a position with former President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the conversations. Majewski confirmed to POLITICO that he had briefly talked with Trump’s team but denied that those conversations had been about job opportunities.

It’s not clear when or if Majewski, an Air Force veteran, would exit the race. There are just three weeks to the March 19 primary, early voting began six days ago, and Majewski has a history of changing his mind. He’s already dropped out once this cycle and then jumped back into the race.

If he does end his bid, it could be a major victory for House GOP strategists who had feared he would cost the party one of its best opportunities to bolster a tenuous majority.

Despite his denials to POLITICO, Majewski has been unambiguous about his plans in private conversations.

In conversations and text messages reviewed by POLITICO, Majewski has explicitly told multiple people in recent days that he is going to end his campaign, according to three people familiar with the conversations and granted anonymity to discuss them.

But even people who heard directly from Majewski about his plans to drop out acknowledge that he is a volatile character. A fourth person said Majewski wants a clear off-ramp.

National Republicans are desperate to block Majewski from again winning the nomination for the seat. His 2022 bid derailed after a news report on his military records indicated he lied. (He denies misrepresenting his military service.)

Majewski ultimately lost to Kaptur by 13 points in a Toledo-based district that is again among the top targets for Republicans because Trump won it by 3 points in 2020. Party strategists feared Majewski would win the primary again, setting up a repeat of his 2022 loss. For months, they have tried to position a candidate to beat him in the primary.

He had come under fire most recently for his appearance on a podcast in which he made disparaging comments about the Special Olympics and people with mental disabilities, calling them “retarded.” The Lucas County GOP formally censured him after his comments, calling them “reprehensible, uncaring and inappropriate.” Majewski apologized.

“If my comments put me in a position where I can’t win the general election then I gotta do the smart thing, right?” Majewski told POLITICO, adding that his priority is helping Republicans keep the majority and Trump reclaim the White House.

His comments had clearly rattled some supporters. One local government official in Majewski’s home county wrote on Facebook that she worked with special needs children for 14 years and had removed her pro-Majewski yard signs and posts. “So many of us were hurt by this,” she wrote.

Majewski first launched a bid last year only to drop out in May, citing his mother’s health. He later reentered the race, much to the chagrin of GOP leaders.

It was just one twist in a GOP primary in Ohio’s 9th District that has been whiplash-inducing.

Party strategists were banking on former Ohio state Rep. Craig Riedel to block Majewski from the nomination. Then audio leaked late last year of him calling Trump “arrogant” and vowing to refrain from endorsing him. That revelation caused panic among Republicans who feared Riedel would not be able to win a primary filled with Trump supporters — but that Majewski would not be able to win a general election.

Their solution: recruiting a third candidate. GOP leaders convinced state Rep. Derek Merrin to jump into the race shortly before the filing deadline in late December. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leadership, has spent over $500,000 so far on ads boosting Merrin, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact.

But the strategy was risky. If Riedel and Merrin split the anti-Majewski vote, they could open up a path for Majewski to win.

If Majewski does leave the race, his name will remain on the ballot.

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