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Accusations of lying and a Trump signage battle: The House GOP’s nastiest primary goes out with a bang

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LOUISA, Virginia — No matter who wins Tuesday’s GOP primary battle between the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus Rep. Bob Good and Virginia state Sen. John McGuire, the results will reverberate among House Republicans.

If Good goes down, he would be the first sitting chair in the influential group’s nearly decade-long history to be defeated — a loss that would embolden critics of the increasingly fractious bloc.

But if he wins, he’ll have done it despite strong opposition from former (and possibly future) President Donald Trump and only mild backing from Republican leaders, including House Speaker Mike Johnson — signaling friction ahead. “Mike Johnson has done nothing to help me in my race,” Good said in a Friday interview after campaigning outside the Louisa County courthouse.

McGuire boasts the backing of more than a half-dozen high-profile colleagues of Good’s in the House GOP. And after telling supporters outside the courthouse on Friday that McGuire and his backers misled Trump to win the former president’s support, Good said in an interview: “There’s people in the [former] president’s ear who have their own agenda, and they’re dishonest, and they’ve lied to him about me.”

He wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of those alleged lies beyond claiming he’s consistently supported Trump since 2016; Trump has made clear that Good’s early backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) in the presidential primary helped prompt his endorsement of McGuire.

Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member who’s backing Good, said that if Good’s opponents are “able to take out the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, it will send a definite message to other conservatives that want [to] challenge the status quo and make big moves.”

But if Good survives McGuire’s challenge, his allies predict he’ll emerge from the fight even more emboldened. Good may even have time to exact revenge should McGuire win the primary — there’s still a lot of legislating left to do this Congress and a lot of opportunities for him to cause trouble for the party’s fractured two-vote House majority.

In the run-up to primary day, the district was blanketed by competing Good vs. McGuire events. More than two dozen Hill GOP staffers led by Rep. William Timmons (R-S.C.) chartered a bus from Washington on Saturday to meet with and campaign for McGuire, a former Navy SEAL.

It was an unorthodox move by Timmons, but a clear revenge play. Good had backed the primary challenger Timmons defeated just a few days prior, so the South Carolina lawmaker decided to personally tell Virginia voters about their representative’s polarizing reputation within his party.

Among quite a few GOP colleagues, Good is nicknamed “Bob Bad” for what they call his abrasive criticism of fellow Republicans, and the blowback he’s received lately is a testament to the number of colleagues who consider themselves enemies. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy — whom Good voted to oust last fall — and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are among the Republican players backing McGuire.

The most talked-about McGuire endorser, of course, is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Trump’s campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter last month seeking to block Good’s campaign from putting the two men’s names together on signs. But the Good team kept using and touting signs with Trump’s name — to criticism from McGuire, who said in an interview that Good is trying to “trick people.”

Asked about the flap over his Trump-themed signs, Good replied: “I’m not talking about stupid topics. That’s a stupid topic.”

He may be onto something among his local base. Three Good supporters at his event, including Louisa Mayor Garland Nuckols, lauded the incumbent’s willingness to fight for conservative principles and largely shrugged off the attacks on Good from the former president they support. Good’s supporters in the district include a strong contingent of local elected officials in the district McGuire represents in the state Senate.

A group of 24 Virginia GOP leaders led by Rick Buchanan, chair of the 5th District Republican Congressional Committee, have “strongly urged” Trump to reconsider his backing of McGuire over Good.

McGuire countered that some of those Good endorsements are retribution from state officials he hadn’t supported during their own contested races.

“I have focused more on getting the people to endorse me,” McGuire said in a Saturday interview. “Like Trump — he goes for the common man.”

The list of recriminations between the two Republican campaigns gets longer still: Good supporters ding McGuire for declining to debate and accuse him of being a ladder-climber who jumped quickly from his state Senate seat to challenging Good.

McGuire, who ran for a House seat in 2020 against Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) before dropping out, said he was encouraged to take on Good while on the campaign trail for state Senate.

“The whole time I’m campaigning, people are like this,” McGuire said, pulling on his own shirt sleeve for effect. “‘I know you are running for state Senate, but you are the only guy who [can] beat that guy. He’s a tyrant. He’s really mean.”

The race for the south central Virginia district has drawn a whopping $14.5 million in ad spending, mostly from super PACs. That includes some tied to allies of McCarthy, who went after Good as part of a nationwide vengeance push against the fellow Republicans who voted to end his speakership.

Good’s allies have spent roughly $5.4 million, while pro-McGuire forces have spent $7.5 million, according to data from the media tracking firm AdImpact. McGuire’s campaign has spent nearly $1.5 million on ads, while Good has spent only a few thousand dollars on radio spots.

McGuire has tried to leverage his big advantage on TV to stress his Trump endorsement in a district that the former president won by more than 8 points in 2020. It is also mentioned often on his campaign materials, including T-shirts and signs.

And while Good is trying to portray the race as the establishment “swamp” attacking a conservative who fought it, he’s also avoided acknowledging his own role in his current predicament — specifically, his repeated willingness to do the exact sort of Republican-versus-Republican campaigning that he’s criticizing his own colleagues for.

Good has also sought to portray any attacks on him as attacks on the Freedom Caucus and its policies.

Members like Timmons disagree. To them, it’s personal.

“It is not because I don’t agree with Bob Good on policies,” Timmons said last week, ahead of his door-knocking trip to Good’s district. “It is because of his tactics. Such a critical part of this job is earning your colleagues’ respect and their trust. And he is a bad advocate because of his tactics, not because of his policies.”

Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.