CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Twitter exchange between West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter and 3rd Congressional District candidate and state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, turned into a social media firestorm on Thursday, raising an online outcry over if Potter went after the pension Ojeda receives for his retirement from the military.
It began when Potter, who was elected as chairwoman in January, called Ojeda out Wednesday night for a meeting with filmmaker Michael Moore.
Potter said the meeting was a “slap in the face to every hardworking West Virginian.” She also tweeted Moore was Ojeda’s “liberal buddy,” and the GOP would fight against Ojeda’s bid for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ojeda fired back Thursday morning, tweeting Potter had “never worked a hard day in her life, loves (Texas Senator) Ted Cruz and actually thinks one of her weak kneed Republicans is going to beat me.”
Potter responded to Ojeda, saying he did not know about the work she has done. She added, “at least I do not get money from the government.”
That’s when the interaction hit a turning point.
Ojeda took Potter’s comments as an attack on his military retirement; Ojeda served four tours over 24 years in the United States Army before he retired as a major. He went to Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany and South Korea during his service.
“I was paid by the government to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country and to stop them from blowing up our soldiers and I did a damn good job at it. 24 years,” Ojeda tweeted. “How do you earn your money?”
Potter’s tweet was met with an overwhelmingly negative response.
“The GOP Chair in WV just attacked 24 year Army veteran @Ojeda4congress, who served 4 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, because he receives a military retirement. What. The. Hell,” tweeted People’s House Project President Krystal Ball, who is backing Ojeda.
“I’m pretty sure the ‘work you do’ doesn’t compare to the work that our military does and should be justly compensated for,” Ed Kaul said.
Ojeda said in an interview Thursday night Potter’s tweet was inappropriate.
“These people always want to use veterans when they are running for office and act like they care. But in reality, that’s not what they do. In reality, behind the scenes, they look at the benefits that we get from spending our lives, from risking our lives to the military service as nothing more than a handout,” he said. “And if it was up to them, they would probably cut it.”
Ojeda also said Potter’s attacks were also based on fears about his rising popularity; POLITICO Magazine and The Guardian published articles on Ojeda during the statewide teachers’ strike, a period in which Ojeda was met with overwhelming support from protesters at the state Capitol.
He added a poll from his campaign shows him beating two GOP candidates among Republican voters.
“You either have to do what’s right by these people, or these people are going to stand together. And you are not going to any longer get their support,” he said. “It’s time for the working-class citizens to finally have a seat at the table.”
Potter said her response was not an attack on Ojeda’s retirement from the military, but rather a rebuttal to him saying she knew nothing about hard work.
“I raised a son by myself as a single parent and I never took any government assistance while I was working,” she said. “That’s what I meant by that, and it was totally misconstrued.”
Potter said Ojeda’s meeting with Moore should be concerning to voters, additionally describing Moore as an “ultra-liberal.”
“He’s bashed coal mining and he’s also for gun control,” Potter said of Moore. “I can’t imagine a senator from our state meeting with someone like Michael Moore.”
Moore is the director of multiple political documentaries, including “Bowling for Columbine,” an Academy Award-winning film on school safety, and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which examines the early years of the George W. Bush presidency.
According to Ojeda, Moore asked for the meeting to discuss the teachers’ strike. Ojeda said while he disagrees with Moore on multiple issues, he is willing to sit down with anyone.
“Flint, Michigan, is the place that he (Moore) is from, and it’s been forgotten by America,” Ojeda said. “There’s towns all across America that have been forgotten because the top 1 percent controls everything and they have no care for the people.”
Moore’s 1989 film “Roger & Me” focuses on how the closures of General Motors’ plants negatively affected Flint. The city is still in a water crisis, in which thousands of residents face exposure to high levels of lead in the public water system.
West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore said in a statement Potter is out of touch on veterans issues.
“The West Virginia Republican Party has never shied away from offering no protection for our veterans, but also continue to try and take hard-earned benefits out of their hands,” she said. “This is what Melody Potter and her fellow Republicans think of veterans and they have zero respect for working people in West Virginia.”