OPINION — I know reading too many fundraising emails is hazardous to your health, so I usually avoid them. But sometimes I can’t resist, and a recent one from a long-shot Senate challenger in Delaware featured a doozy of an accusation.
“Dear Fellow Patriot, My campaign is OFFICIALLY on the ballot, and ready to take the fight to far-left socialist Sen. Chris Coons,” read an email from Republican Lauren Witzke. “Chris Coons represents everything that’s wrong with our government. He’s an open borders loving, Christian hating, ‘progressive’ socialist. He is actively destroying the way of life that Americans have enjoyed for generations.”
Among the boilerplate attacks, it was the “Christian hating” that stuck out to me.
In 2019, Coons was co-chairman of the nonpartisan National Prayer Breakfast with GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. It’s an annual tradition since 1953 and attended by every president over the last 67 years.
Here’s how the Democratic senator prayed for President Donald Trump that morning: “Heavenly Father, we pray for all who are in positions of responsibility and authority, and all who seek a closer relationship with you. This morning we especially pray for President Trump and we ask that your wisdom, your blessing, and your peace would be upon him and his family as they serve us, and that today, you would touch his heart and all who have been with us here this morning at this National Prayer Breakfast. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”
That obviously wasn’t enough for Witzke.
“@ChrisCoons is the co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast. He’s failed to protect Christians during the shutdown. So @WitzkeforDE is doing it instead,” said online news editor and unsuccessful North Carolina congressional candidate Pete D’Abrosca in a May 14 tweet that was retweeted by Witzke. One of the pictures in D’Abrosca’s Twitter profile includes the quote, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” and a Confederate battle flag.
A few days later, the Witzke campaign co-hosted the reopening of a local church. “If you are a Delawarean who has been deprived of your God-given right to worship, join us this Sunday to exercise your First Amendment rights and show the government that you won’t be subject [to] its tyrannical overreach,” read the event description on Facebook. “Lauren Witzke is teaming up with Pastor Joy Hill to defy Delaware’s mandatory stay at home order and reopen Glory City Fellowship, a non-denominational place of Christian Worship. This will be the first official Church reopening in Delaware. …Please share the event and encourage your friends to contribute to Lauren’s campaign against Senator Chris Coons.”
She followed up on Twitter.
“NEWS: This Sunday in defiance of state stay at home orders, our campaign will be attending the reopening of Glory City Fellowship Church in Delmar, DE,” Witzke tweeted. “We’d like to extend an offer to @ChrisCoons, co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast.” Coons is also a Yale Divinity school graduate who has encouraged his Democratic colleagues to talk more about their faith.
The criticism of Coons from a long-shot challenger is emblematic of a broader coronavirus fight: Measures to protect Christians from the spread of COVID-19 by limiting in-person gatherings are viewed as an assault on religious freedom.
If elected, Witzke might be surprised to learn that there’s a weekly bipartisan Bible study in the Senate, and Coons has been a leader.
“Look, it’s really tough to throw a punch, at least verbally, on the floor of the Senate or in an interview when that morning you were holding hands in prayer, and that’s powerful, that’s important,” Coons told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2018. “It gives you a real insight into someone’s walk with the Lord to hear them pray on a weekly basis. It just lays a basis for a very different sort of relationship.” According to CBN, the group closes each weekly meeting holding hands in prayer.
Meanwhile, Witzke has called former Vice President Joe Biden a “sexual predator” who has an “affinity for groping/sniffing children,” and accused Coons of not defending his own daughter from Biden when the vice president whispered something in her ear during the senator’s ceremonial swearing-in.
Through the first three months of the year, Witzke’s message hadn’t gained much traction. She raised $21,000 through the end of March and had $7,000 in the bank. Witzke will need to get past lawyer Jim DeMartino (who raised $26,000 and had $21,000 in cash on hand) in the Sept. 15 Republican primary.
If Witzke wins the GOP nomination, she will not only face Coons (who had $2.8 million at the end of March), but it looks like she’ll be the second QAnon follower (Oregon’s Jo Rae Perkins is the other) to carry the Republican banner in a Senate race in the fall.
QAnon is a collaborative effort of anonymous authors and contributors who believe they are uncovering a secret plot by the “deep state” to oppose Trump.
“Have you noticed that nearly every patriot, Q follower, true news speaker and real investigative journalist is a believer in Jesus Christ,” Twitter user @prophecystone tweeted in May 2019.
Witzke responded, “The Spirit of Elijah is here!! More, Lord!! #WWG1WGA,” using a common hashtag of Q followers, which is short for Where We Go One We Go All.
The Delaware Senate race is rated Solid Democratic.
Nathan L. Gonzales is a campaign analyst for CQ Roll Call.