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GOP candidate from New Jersey accused of pandering after he transforms into cowboy for Texas run

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/28/2021 Meryl Kornfield
a man and a woman taking a selfie: Left: Dan Rodimer in a campaign ad in 2020, when he was running for Nevada's 3rd Congressional District. Right: Rodimer in an ad shot in 2021 for his candidacy in Texas's 6th District. © Dan Rodimer for Congress/YouTube Left: Dan Rodimer in a campaign ad in 2020, when he was running for Nevada's 3rd Congressional District. Right: Rodimer in an ad shot in 2021 for his candidacy in Texas's 6th District.

New Jersey boy. Pro wrestler. Failed Republican candidate in Nevada. Dan Rodimer has led many lives, but his latest — a cowboy hat-wearing, Southern-drawling bull rider — might be the most extreme transformation to date.

In his first ad as a candidate for Texas’s 6th Congressional District, “Big Dan” Rodimer speaks in a gravelly, indistinct Southern accent, throws jabs at Democratic policies and compares House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to a bull. The bull he’s supposedly riding in the ad.

But the New Jersey native didn’t have the twang last year when he ran for Congress in Nevada. In one of those ads, resurfaced by the American Independent, Rodimer’s voice was softer and more clear as he defended himself against assault allegations raised by his opponent. Rather than a rodeo arena, he was surrounded at home by his children and wife — who, at one point in the campaign, was forced to explain the 911 calls she had made against him.

Rodimer has remade himself again on a road he hopes will lead to Congress, though his latest persona has earned him ridicule, even from fellow Republicans.

The ad, in particular, has renewed criticism that Rodimer, with no known connection to the 6th District, is a carpetbagger pandering to the Texas electorate. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) attacked Rodimer and the ad: “Fake Texan makes fake video of fake bull ride.”

“We already have enough phonies in Congress,” Gaetz said. “Texans, please send this Nevada man back to his true home state (where he lost two prior elections).”

The campaign declined The Washington Post’s request for an interview with Rodimer and did not respond to questions about the ad or Rodimer’s connections to Texas.

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Originally from New Jersey, Rodimer attended a preparatory school in the suburbs before moving to Florida for college and law school. His campaign website says he previously lived in Houston, working as a home builder, and owned a home in Galveston — though neither location is near the district he’s running for, just south of Dallas.

After losing bids for the Nevada legislature in 2018 and Congress last year, Rodimer is campaigning again, this time in Texas, to fill the seat of the late congressman Ron Wright (R), vying against 22 other candidates. He said he was encouraged to run by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and members of former president Donald Trump’s family, according to Politico.

In an interview with Newsmax, Rodimer touted the ad’s “Make America Texas Again” tagline, saying he was “in free America” now that he had moved to Texas. He boasted that he stayed on the bull for 11 seconds.

“I said I want to ride a bull. I’ve never ridden one. I’ve been a pro wrestler, I’ve been a fighter,” Rodimer told the conservative network. “They said the hardest thing to do is to ride a bull.”

But reporters and Internet sleuths are convinced he used a stunt double for the bull-riding spectacle, noting the camera angle in the bull-bucking ad never shows the face of the rider, which is presumably intended to be Rodimer. The candidate’s boots and vest are also different from what the rider is wearing.

This is not Rodimer’s first rodeo with a controversy-mired campaign. Two 911 calls in 2018 by his then-girlfriend, now-wife, were made public when he ran in Nevada. In the calls, she alleged that Rodimer stole money, jewelry and guns from her. Old arrest records from his college and law school days in Florida also resurfaced. Rodimer was accused of assault three times between 2010 and 2013, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge related to a confrontation at a Waffle House, the Associated Press reported in 2019. He completed a six-week anger management course in exchange for the charge being dropped.

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In sharp contrast with his current cowboy persona, Rodimer in 2020 defended his past brushes with the law with a more subdued campaign ad in Nevada, in which he attempted to “set the record straight.” Sitting on a couch with his family and sporting a polo shirt, Rodimer spoke in a higher pitch and enunciated his words.

“I had one arrest in my life, while in college,” Rodimer says in the spot. “Those charges were dismissed.”

In the Texas ad, Rodimer leans into his cowboy character. He lays out a platform against the fight for transgender students’ rights and in favor of stricter border control. He said his wife and five children are hoping to settle in Texas, “a constitutional-friendly state.”

Voicing over scenes of him walking through the district, Rodimer says that “people in power” view Texans as “a threat.”

“They hate Texas,” he said. “They hate our way of life.”

Rodimer’s ad also earned rebuke from some of the 10 Democrats and 10 other Republicans in the crowded race for the 6th District.

“I know you’re new around here so let me introduce you to an important Texas phrase: all hat, no cattle,” Democratic candidate Lydia Bean tweeted. “Doesn’t take a bull to notice someone completely full of it.”

David Weigel and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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