After Johnson’s victory, the senator specifically thanked vapers: “You made tonight possible; I truly appreciate it. I will be on your side.”
But Tom Russell, campaign manager for Johnson’s opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold, doesn’t buy the idea that vapers swung the election, saying he didn’t see any money or data to that effect.
“The reality is to the extent there was a Tea Party, previously unmotivated voting bloc, they were motivated by Donald Trump,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it wasn’t ‘Vape Nation.’”
Vaping advocates also point to a 2014 state election in New Mexico as an early victory for their growing cause. That year, state Rep. Liz Thomson, a Democrat, lost her reelection bid to Republican Conrad James, a pro-vaping candidate who got a last-minute boost from Clark’s CASAA and vaping groups. The American Vaping Association put out a celebratory press release, and Americans for Tax Reform called Thomson vaping’s “first victim.”
Thomson, though, considers the loss a fluke, not the work of vapers. “I do not believe they had any effect in my race,” said the legislator, who later won back her seat. “It was a confluence of factors that was bigger than their group.”
In 2018, Block joined the late stages of the California race of embattled U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter. Known as the vaping congressman, the Republican has helped create pro-vaping legislation.
But he was indicted for campaign finance violations in 2018.
Reusing the 2016 playbook, Block went to vape store after vape store in the last three weeks of Hunter’s race, handing out postcards with an illustration of the congressman vaping that say “Blaze your own trail.”
Hunter narrowly won.
Those races were almost like a practice run. Right now, vaping activists are scrambling to create the framework for a broader political campaign.
Clark said CASAA feels pressure to make a voting guide, but it doesn’t have the resources to figure out which candidates are truly pro-vaping. The group’s first attempt at a guide in 2016 involved surveys sent to some 900 candidates, but Clark said only 200 or so of the “most fringe” candidates responded.