A New Mexico Republican congressional candidate collaborated with a conservative meme-maker to push the claim that her primary opponent had an affair while her husband was deployed, according to text messages obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Those messages show Yvette Herrell, who is running against Claire Chase for the Republican nomination in New Mexico's Second Congressional District, working with the internet cartoonist Roger Rael, known for publishing ruthless memes about New Mexican politicians, on a cartoon depicting Chase having an affair with her current husband while her then-husband, Ben Gray, was deployed in Afghanistan. Chase's campaign says the allegation is false and provided information showing that Chase and Gray were not divorced until two years after he returned from Afghanistan. It also says the divorce was finalized months before she had met her current husband.
Chase has called for Herrell to drop out of the race after a news report surfaced indicating that she helped spread the rumor, a charge that Herrell has vigorously denied. But a review of the text messages and interviews with sources who say that Herrell contacted them and detailed the rumor undermine her denial.
Herrell told the Associated Press, which obtained her text messages with Rael, that she received unsolicited messages from the cartoonist and provided guidance at his behest. "The second Claire is spelled wrong," she told him in one message. "It should say gold digging, not good digging. Let me send them in the morning, there are a couple of more."
But Rael told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that he created the cartoon at Herrell's direction. "She asked me to make a meme for her and put it out there, because she didn't want ties to it," Rael said, adding that Herrell offered to pay him $200 for the task.
Herrell has attacked Rael's credibility, pointing to pending criminal charges against the cartoonist, and said she had no relationship with him. But the string of text messages, which began last November and stretches until this February, suggest otherwise. Among the text messages Rael provided to the Free Beacon, one message from Herrell refers to the "long time" they've known each other.
"I know you know me better than to buy into this crap," Herrell wrote in a Feb. 17 message. "You have known me a long time and you know my priorities are the people of New Mexico."
Herrell's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Rael, who is facing charges for disorderly conduct, is not the only person who has accused Herrell of slinging mud. Retired U.S. Marine Jared Richardson, who is an influential voice in New Mexico's military community and active in politics, told the Free Beacon that Herrell detailed the rumor to him in an April 8 phone call in an attempt to convince him to back her rather than Chase. Richardson said he was contacted by several of Herrell's advisers after he posted on Facebook that he was supporting Chase and eventually received a call from Herrell herself.
"She cheated on her husband while he was deployed in Afghanistan," Herrell said, according to Richardson. "As a military man, don't you find that reprehensible? How could you be lobbying for other military members to support her when she cheated on her husband while he was deployed?"
Richardson says he believes Rael's account. "She gave the same information to me," he told the Free Beacon. "So I believe him 150 percent."
Phone records reviewed by the Free Beacon confirm that Herrell called Richardson last month and spoke to him for 36 minutes.
Both Chase and her ex-husband have slammed the rumor and those circulating it, calling it "disgusting" and "despicable." Gray says the two remain "good friends" and that he is supporting her campaign.
Chase has called for Herrell to drop out of the race. "This despicable, untrue, and deeply personal attack reveals who Yvette Herrell is as a person, and it isn’t pretty," Chase said. "Yvette’s candidacy is no longer viable and she should drop out of this race for the good of the Republican Party."
The New Mexico Republican Party declined to comment on the record about the allegation that Herrell worked with Rael. Anissa Tinnin, the party's executive director, said the party would support the eventual nominee.
Voting in the primary election began on Tuesday and will run through June 2. The winner of the primary will face Democratic congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small, who narrowly defeated Herrell in 2018.