West Virginia Democrat Richard Ojeda is running for president in 2020, he revealed to The Intercept. Ojeda is a state senator and a retired US Army major who lost his bid for a US House seat in the midterm elections but outperformed Hillary Clinton in the district by more than 35 points.
Ojeda is new on the political scene after first winning his state legislature seat in 2016. He went on to back Donald Trump against Clinton in the general election after backing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.
Ojeda rose to prominence in the state as a leader of the West Virginia teacher strike earlier this year. As a state Senator, he has pushed for the legalization of medical marijuana and has gone after pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic.
Ojeda faces a steep uphill climb given his lack of name recognition or experience but he has already proven he can gain a lot of ground in a short period of time in red-leaning areas in his Congressional bid.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Richard Ojeda Is a Retired US Army Major
The Intercept reported that Ojeda enlisted in the Army as a private once he graduated high school. He told the outlet he quickly rose through the ranks.
“When I started in the military, I started as a private, the lowest rank you could possibly go, but I was also the chief of operations for the 20th Airborne engineers in Iraq, where we were in control of over 7,000 engineers. And every single operation that went on throughout the entire country of Iraq went through my JOC, and I was the chief of operations,” he said.
Ojeda told the outlet that the military helped pay for him to go to college and graduate school. He added that he now uses the organizational experience that he took from the military to vocally oppose militarism.
2. Richard Ojeda Is a Bernie Sanders Supporter Who Backed Trump in 2016
Ojeda supported Trump in the 2016 election after supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. He now says he believes Trump is a fraud, but could not bring himself to back Clinton.
“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.”
Ojeda now rejects Trump’s claims that he is helping the military or the working class in West Virginia.
“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,” Ojeda said.
Ojeda said that he wants the core of his campaign to focus on lobbying and corruption in Washington. He told The Intercept that he would propose requiring members of Congress to donate their new wealth once they get over $1 million, in order to discourage lawmakers from using their power for personal gain. He said he would provide every retired member of Congress a $130,000 annual pension and allow them to earn up to $250,000.
“When you get into politics, that’s supposed to be a life of service, but that’s not what it’s been. You know, a person goes into politics, they win a seat in Congress or the Senate, and it’s a $174,000 [salary], but yet two years later, they’re worth $30 million, and that’s one of the problems that we have in society today. That’s how come no one trusts — or has very much respect for — politicians,” he told The Intercept.
He added that he would also propose requiring lobbyists to wear body cameras.
Vox also reported that Ojeda supports a public option and a Medicare buy-in and legalizing medical cannabis.
3. Richard Ojeda Was a Leader of The West Virginia Teacher Strike
Ojeda’s speeches about West Virginia teachers went viral ahead of the strike, helping push through a raise for teachers in the state for the first time in more than 20 years, The New York Times reported.
“We are sitting on a powder keg. If you think teachers across this state are not saying the s-word, you are wrong,” he said in January, referencing a potential strike.
The support of teachers helped propel him to a closer finish than many expected in the district.
“They did a poll of 1,000 teachers — 97 percent said Ojeda,” he told Vox. “This wasn’t 1,000 Democrats, it was Democrats, independents, Republicans; they voted for me. They know I have their best interests at heart.”
4. Richard Ojeda Got The Largest Swing of Trump Voters Toward Democrats in Midterms
Ojeda saw the largest swing of Trump voters toward a Democratic candidate in any House race this year. He outperformed Hillary Clinton’s vote total in the state by 35 points. Trump carried his district by 49 points in 2016. Ojeda lost the district by 12 points.
Ojeda said that his success in challenging for the seat came from his ability to reach black, Hispanic, and women voters. He says he can understand the struggle of working people better than many of the 2020 contenders.
“I can understand it 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 told The Intercept. “I know far more about that life than [elites in Washington] know about that life. So when someone stands up that has a bank account that’s got $50 or $60 million in it, I personally could care less what they have to say about how they’re gonna … how they know what a single parent who is trying to put food on the table feels. Because they don’t.”
5. Richard Ojeda Has a Lot of Competition in the 2020 Field
Along with Ojeda, Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have said they are considering a presidential bid. California Rep. Eric Swalwell is building a team in early primary states while ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is building a team that includes former John McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt.
Other rumored 2020 contenders include former Vice President Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Ojeda told The Intercept that he believes none of the more than a dozen rumored Democratic contenders can stand up to Trump.
“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 said. “I’m not trying to throw stones at people that are rich, but once again, we will have a field that will be full of millionaires and, I’m sure, a few billionaires.”