“There was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton,” Hanna said.
The comment made national headlines, but Tenney said it came as no surprise after she spent the 2014 campaign criticizing Hanna for being one of the very last Republicans to support creating the committee in the first place.
“It’s pretty consistently Richard Hanna,” Tenney said. “I think he’s duplicitous, but I think it’s consistently Richard Hanna.”
Hanna’s comments add fuel to hard-line conservatives’ hopes of knocking him out of Congress in 2016. Tenney won more than 46 percent of the 2014 GOP primary vote despite running a shoestring campaign—and facing heavier spending from not only Hanna’s campaign but a super PAC that backs pro-same-sex marriage Republicans.
Hanna spent $564,000 leading up to last cycle’s primary, while Tenney spent $112,000, according to FEC filings. And American Unity PAC, the super PAC, added about $665,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Because American Unity PAC spent so much—and the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative group that promotes “one man, one woman” marriage laws, made a much smaller $25,000 investment—last year’s race was seen as a battle over same-sex marriage. But Tenney said there actually wasn’t enough focus on social issues. American Unity PAC’s ads didn’t address Hanna’s support for gay marriage or Tenney’s opposition; instead, the PAC ran TV spots attacking Tenney for votes on state-level taxes.
“There wasn’t a single word, there wasn’t a single printed piece, there wasn’t a TV ad, there wasn’t a single discussion of same-sex marriage in the entire campaign,” she said. “... It was entirely a false flag campaign, it was trying to portray me as a liberal and Richard Hanna as a conservative.”
Philip Klinkner, a professor of government at Hamilton College in Hanna’s district, agreed that American Unity PAC tried to distract voters last cycle.
“It really was rather disingenuous on their part,” said Klinkner, a Democrat.
In 2016, Tenney will continue attacking Hanna’s record not only on same-sex marriage but also on his Planned Parenthood vote, she said. But she could face another big-money onslaught: American Unity PAC is “fully in support of Richard Hanna,” said spokeswoman Christine Baratta, who did not add anything about their specific plans for 2016.
Hanna can also count on help from the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that has spent millions of dollars backing moderate Republicans. Main Street COO Sarah Chamberlain said the group will back Hanna if Tenney enters the race.
But the money race isn’t likely to be so lopsided if Tenney runs a second time, Klinkner said.
“Given how well Tenney did in the last cycle, some groups like the Club for Growth, some of the more tea-party conservative groups would be more likely to give her money” in 2016, knowing she could launch a viable campaign, Klinkner said.