Ex-CNN anchor John Avlon announces Congress run to defeat ‘Maga minions’

<span>‘Our democracy is in danger,’ said John Avlon in a video announcement.</span><span>Photograph: Jason Mendez/Getty Images</span>
‘Our democracy is in danger,’ said John Avlon in a video announcement.Photograph: Jason Mendez/Getty Images
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The former Daily Beast editor and CNN anchor John Avlon announced his candidacy for US Congress in New York as a Democrat, seeking to flip a seat on Long Island, where Republicans saw surprising gains in the 2022 midterm elections.

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In a video announcement, Avlon said he was running to help Democrats win back the House from Donald Trump’s “Maga minions”.

“Our democracy is in danger,” he said. “This election is not a drill. It’s up to all of us to step up and get off the sidelines.

“We need to build the broadest possible coalition to defeat Donald Trump, defend our democracy and win back the House from his Maga minions who don’t even seem interested in solving problems.”

Avlon included the incumbent congressman in the first district, the Republican Nick LaLota, among those “minions”, who he said were “doing whatever Trump wants, including blocking a bipartisan border security deal” – a reference to a successful move by Senate Republicans earlier this month, while their House counterparts refuse to pass a foreign aid bill that does not also include a border element.

LaLota is one of a number of New York Republicans who won in 2022 in districts where Joe Biden beat Trump in 2020. Those districts are now targets for Democrats seeking to take back the closely divided House. One was flipped last week, when the third district, previously represented by George Santos – an indicted fabulist and only the sixth member ever expelled from the House – was won by a Democrat.

LaLota’s spokesperson, Will Kiley, previewed Republican attack lines, calling Avlon “a Manhattan elitist without any attachments to Long Island other than his summer home in the Hamptons”, who knew “nothing about Suffolk county other than Sag Harbor croquet matches and summer cocktail parties in Bridgehampton”.

Married to the commentator and PBS host Margaret Hoover, a great-granddaughter of the Republican president Herbert Hoover, Avlon lives in Sag Harbor, a whaling port turned desirable seaside retreat.

Kiley added: “It may take burning millions of his friends’ money for Avlon to learn NY-1 has a history of rejecting out-of-state and Manhattan elitists, from both sides of the aisle, who parachute into the district attempting to buy a seat in Congress.”

Savannah Viar, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, called Avlon a “smug liberal hack”.

LaLota, 45, is a graduate of the US Naval Academy. Kiley called him “the commonsense conservative voice Long Island needs at this crucial time”.

In his announcement, Avlon said: “This district needs real leadership, not more hyper-partisanship, and I am going to hit the ground running, talking to voters across Suffolk county about the issues we all care about.”

Related: Lincoln and the fight for peace: John Avlon on a president in the shadow of new war

He aimed, he said, to “rebuild the middle class, invest in infrastructure, protect women’s reproductive freedoms and combat climate change”.

A former volunteer for Bill Clinton and chief speechwriter to Rudy Giuliani when he was the mayor of New York City, Avlon, 51, is also the author of books on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and contemporary US politics, including, in 2010, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.

On Wednesday, he said he wore “as a badge of honour” Trump’s decision in 2016 to “blacklist” outlets including the Daily Beast, the website Avlon edited for five years from 2013 before focusing on CNN, which he left this month.

On social media, Avlon thanked David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s chief White House strategist, who called him “thoughtful, incisive and passionate about our country and its future” and said he would be “a great and impactful member of Congress”.

• This article was amended on 22 February 2024 to note that the mayor of New York City that John Avlon was chief speech writer to was Rudy Giuliani.