Recently released screenshots of a text exchange between a 3rd Congressional District candidate’s campaign staffers shed light on conflict simmering behind the scenes.

Red Voice Media, a right-wing blog, published messages on April 21 between former Kent campaign manager Byron Sanford and Ozzie Gonzalez, who currently holds the position.

Following this release, The Dispatch published its own report on the internal conflict involving the staff members and Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign aide and current consultant for Kent’s campaign.

It unexpectedly became a rabbit hole.

Before getting absorbed into the campaign drama, The Columbian contacted Sanford to verify the messages were from Gonzalez, fact-check some of the behind-the-scenes tales and ask follow-up questions. Although the former campaign manager was responsive, Gonzalez and Kent told The Columbian that they had nothing else to say than what was already published in The Dispatch’s article.

At its root, the debacle reflected dissatisfaction with how the campaign was progressing. Specifically, with Braynard’s role in it. Sanford said the campaign’s image “suffered” since the consultant joined Kent’s team; he added that Braynard made poor decisions within his position and had a problematic association with fascists – including attending the America First Political Action Conference in 2021, an event organized by white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

When Sanford recommended to Kent that he should lay off Braynard or drastically reduce his campaign duties, Sanford was fired shortly after in early-December.

So why were the texts publicized months after they were sent?

Sanford told The Columbian that he has been providing screenshots of messages like these to publications, including Red Voice Media, since he was fired. The former campaign manager has also been speaking to outlets about the campaign off-the-record since December, he said.

So, what was the exchange that sparked opening this can of worms?

Texts from November 23:

GONZALEZ: If we implement an insane ballot harvesting operation in Joe’s district Jim [Walsh] should replicate it when he runs for governor. I’m 1000% down to register homeless people for cigarettes. I’ve been looking for nonprofits or existing orgs that will let us piggyback off their infrastructure but we’re just going to have to do it on our own. Should not be hard. Show up at a camp with 30 dominoes pizzas. Same with every ethnic minority. The stupider the better. Central Americans are perfect.

Later that day:

GONZALEZ: I’m also down to take all the trash bags of ballots back to my place to make sure they voted the correct way by shining a flashlight through the envelope.

SANFORD: Keep me updated on the signs

GONZALEZ: Will do. When I register homeless people I’m just going to pre print the street they live on & make them and email address I have access to. Then I can print their ballots off at home and bring them back to them so they can fill them out.

Gonzalez told The Dispatch that the texts were “fake” and Sanford likely sent them to himself from Gonzalez’s phone.

“That is just nonsensical,” Sanford told The Columbian.

Sanford added that the plan outlined in the exchange was unlikely to happen, and Kent probably wasn’t aware of it because “he was pretty oblivious to what was happening in his campaign.”

However, the content of this exchange sheds light on the hypocrisy from a campaign that is transfixed on election integrity – one that called for an audit of the 2020 general election after Joe Biden secured his role as president.

Now, Sanford is a general consultant for different campaigns. Will he still vote for Kent?

“Absolutely not.”

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker

Lauren Ellenbecker is a politics reporter for The Columbian.

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