GOP Governor’s Vaccination Tour Reveals Depths Of Distrust

gov asa hutchinson arkansas flag_1481324937012-118809318-118809318-118809318-118809318.jpg Gov. Asa Hutchinson has hit the road, meeting face-to-face with residents to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy — in many cases, hostility — in Arkansas.

Free lottery tickets for those who get vaccinated had few takers. Free hunting and fishing licenses didn’t change many minds either. And this being red-state Arkansas, mandatory vaccinations are off the table.

So Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has hit the road, meeting face-to-face with residents to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy — in many cases, hostility — in Arkansas, which has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. but is near the very bottom in dispensing shots.

He is meeting with residents like Harvey Woods, who was among five dozen people who gathered at a convention center ballroom in Texarkana on Thursday night. Most of the audience wasn’t masked, and neither was Hutchinson, who has been vaccinated.

Woods, 67, introduced himself to Hutchinson as “anti-vax” and said that he thinks there are too many questions about the effects of the vaccine and that he doesn’t believe the information from the federal government about them is reliable.

Hutchinson and his top health official tried to reassure Woods about the Food and Drug Administration’s review process. But Hutchinson had a question for Woods.

“Do you believe COVID is real?” the governor asked.

“I’m not afraid of it,” said Woods, who later said he contracted the virus last year.

Hutchinson embarked on the statewide tour as he took over as chairman of the National Governors Association. In that role, he has called combating vaccine resistance a priority.

Studies have shown the vaccines to be highly safe and effective. But misinformation continues to sow doubts about them, especially in conservative and rural areas. Hutchinson has urged the FDA to give full approval to the vaccines instead of emergency authorization, saying that would address one of the arguments used by opponents.

At the forums, Hutchinson tries to empathize with the vaccine skeptics’ anti-government, anti-media sentiment. His message: Listen to your own doctors and medical professionals, not conspiracy theories.

“Let me make sure it’s clear: I’m not asking you to trust government,” he told the Texarkana audience. “I’m asking you to look at, do your own research, talk to people that you trust, and that to me is the right approach.”

The approach is different from that of other Republicans who are portraying health leaders as adversaries even as they try to tamp down cases.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been selling shirts and other merchandise emblazoned “Don’t Fauci My Florida.” In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson has suggested some health officials are trying to scare people into getting vaccinated. In Tennessee, the top vaccine official was fired amid GOP anger over her efforts to get teenagers vaccinated.

With the highly contagious delta variant rapidly driving up case counts around the country and filling hospital beds in places like Arkansas and neighboring Missouri, just 35% of Arkansas’ population is fully vaccinated. Only Mississippi and Alabama are lower, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 98% of the people hospitalized in Arkansas since January because of COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

Hutchinson has few tools left at his disposal after signing into law measures curbing his own authority to respond to the pandemic. They include bans on public schools and other government agencies mandating masks or requiring vaccinations.

A mostly unmasked audience of about 100 people gathered at one of his town halls in Batesville, a town of 11,000 approximately 90 minutes outside Little Rock.

Nathan Grant, a 66-year-old retired accountant from Batesville, said he didn’t know of anything Hutchinson could tell him that would change his mind. Grant has resisted getting the vaccine despite contracting COVID-19 last year. He said he didn’t trust any of the advice coming from Washington.

“They haven’t shot straight with us. The CDC hasn’t shot straight with us. Fauci hasn’t shot straight with us. They’ve changed their stories multiple times,” said Grant, next to whom sat a fellow vaccine skeptic in a baseball cap that read “Trump: No More Bulls—t.”

Some holdouts at the forums aren’t ruling the vaccine out. In Texarkana, one woman said she hadn’t gotten the shots over concerns about how they would interact with her allergies. Doctors in the audience encouraged her to talk with her physician.

The forums are also drawing vaccinated residents who are concerned about the state’s rising cases and exasperated at its lack of options to stem the surge.

Kameron Bethel, a Batesville mother of six, asked if there was a way she could obtain a waiver to get her 10-year old son vaccinated. She also asked the governor to reinstate the mask mandate he lifted in March.

“Yes, we are a great community, but I think if we don’t work together and get it together, it’s all going to fall apart,” she said.

The forum was enough to sway Teresa Cox and her daughter, who got vaccinated at a mobile clinic after the Texarkana town hall. Cox said she doesn’t trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top COVID-19 expert, but had confidence in the doctors who spoke at the event.

“What they said in there scared me,” Cox said. “I have been anti-vaccine all along, but I have also been on a ventilator three times, and I don’t want to be back on a ventilator. You don’t forget it.” 

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House Republicans Post Record Fundraising Ahead Of 2022 Race

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GOP fundraising has also been bolstered by former President Donald Trump.

The committee charged with helping Republicans wrest control of the House in 2022 raised $45.4 million over the last three months, a record quarterly haul during a year without a national election.

That total was bolstered by $20.1 million raised in June, the highest ever monthly off-year total, according to numbers shared with The Associated Press before a public filing deadline.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week announced that it had raised $14.4 million in June, bringing its second-quarter total to about $36.5 million — its best ever for that stretch.

The large sums signal that excitement is high among donors to both parties as they prepare for what is expected to be a contentious midterm election season. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House, but Republicans have history on their side: The party that occupies the White House typically sees large losses in both the House and the Senate.

GOP fundraising has also been bolstered by former President Donald Trump, whose name continues to dominate fundraising pleas for small-dollar contributions, even as he continues to spread lies about the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

In its next filing, the National Republican Congressional Committee will report that it raised $79.2 million during the first half of the year, besting the $44.5 million raised in 2019 and marking the most ever raised for that period in the committee’s history. The committee now has $55 million cash on hand, versus more than $44 million for the DCCC.

But this year’s numbers were also bolstered by major contributions from Republican leadership accounts. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has transferred $12.76 million to the NRCC’s coffers this year, while House Republican Whip Steve Scalise has sent $8.39 million.

“We will take back the majority next fall and voters are doing everything they can to help us accomplish that goal,” NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement. “Every vulnerable House Democrat should be eyeing the exits because if they choose to run, they will lose.”

While the DCCC has lagged behind, it, too, has broken records, including logging its best second quarter in committee history.

“Our strong fundraising success shows American voters are rejecting Republican extremism and know just how critical a Democratic House Majority is to protecting our democracy and delivering for American families,” DCCC Chairman Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said in a statement announcing the numbers.

The Democratic fundraising totals also benefited from transfers from party leadership, though they were not as hefty as those from top Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s campaign fund contributed a bit more than $2 million during the past three months, while Maloney’s provided just shy of $155,000 over the same period. Another $283,000 came during the quarter from the campaign coffers of New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

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