Rep. Devin Nunes is opening up an unusual new line of attack on his well-funded Democratic challenger: his student debt.
A radio ad aired by the Central Valley Republican in the last weeks before election day highlights the fact that his opponent, Fresno prosecutor Andrew Janz, owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.
“Janz racked up a half-million dollars in debt during college,” the ad declares. “No wonder he supports legislation to make taxpayers bail him out.”
As control of the House could hinge on California, the race between Nunes and Janz has emerged as one the state’s highest-profile and most expensive House contests, with a flurry of ads from both sides blanketing airwaves. Nunes’ latest attack comes as it’s becoming more common for younger candidates around the country to run for office while still owing money on their student loans. A Bay Area News Group analysis found that roughly one out of every six Californians on the ballot for Congress in November has student debt, totaling more than $1.1 million in the red.
Janz’s financial disclosure forms show he owed between $260,000 and $515,000 in student loans as of the end of last year. He told the Bay Area News Group this summer that he owed about $300,000 in loans, which he took on while working his way through undergraduate, graduate and law school, and he’s called for reforms to the system like forgiving more debt for graduates who go into public service jobs.
More than half of California college students graduate with debt, owing an average of $21,382 when they get their degree, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. Nunes lists no debt on his latest financial disclosure form.
Janz, 34, argued that Nunes’ ad “demonstrates just how out of touch he is with the struggles of middle class Americans.”
“Going to college shouldn’t put you hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt,” Janz said. “The system is broken and we need new leaders who understand education policy and the value of loan forgiveness programs.”
Other Democrats around the country have also faced attack ads over personal debts this year, including Georgia governor candidate Stacy Abrams, who owes more than $50,000 in back taxes, and Wisconsin congressional hopeful Randy Bryce, who was late paying child support and declared personal bankruptcy several decades ago.
But Nunes’ ad may be the first in this election cycle to explicitly highlight an opponent’s student debt.
The congressman’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the ad. But Fresno County GOP chair Fred Vanderhoof argued that it was “fair game” for Nunes to raise questions about Janz’s personal finances.
“The way someone deals with their personal debt is an indicator of how they’ll deal with the national debt,” Vanderhoof said. “The U.S. has more debt than any country in the world, so this problem has to be dealt with.”
While Nunes is a favorite in the GOP-heavy district, Janz has raised millions of dollars for his underdog campaign thanks to national Democrats’ anger at Nunes’ role on the House Intelligence Committee.
Advocates for student loan payees say the ad risks alienating young voters.
“It’s quite insulting to the millions of student loan borrowers in California,” said Natalia Abrams, the executive director of Student Debt Crisis, a Los Angeles group that advocates for reform to the student loan system. “If we disqualified those with student loan debt, I don’t think we’d have anyone able to run for office in the coming years.”
Other Democrats chimed in with support for Janz. “It’s not a mark of shame, but evidence of a clearly broken system,” tweeted East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell, who owes almost $100,000 in loans himself.
The Nunes ad also bashes Janz for raising money with liberal attorney Michael Avenatti, who’s become a bête noire for the GOP since representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal actions against President Trump.
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