The second-highest Republican in the U.S. House Sunday rejected the actions of 9th District congressional candidate Rich Iott, whose involvement with a World War II German SS re-enactment group has ignited a firestorm on the local campaign trail.
Eric Cantor, the House minority whip from Virginia, said on Fox News Sunday he would “absolutely repudiate” the actions of the Republican candidate who is seeking the seat held by Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Toledo.
His remarks were in response to a statement from fellow panelist Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), the majority's chief deputy whip, on “extreme” GOP candidates.
Mr. Iott's hobby surfaced last week when the Atlantic magazine reported online that Mr. Iott, a Monclova Township businessman, has participated in World War II re-enactments wearing a uniform of a member of the Waffen-SS Wiking unit. The German group fought on the Eastern front.
During the panel segment on Fox, the Democratic leader chided Mr. Cantor and said Republicans have enlisted candidates with questionable qualities.
“You have one candidate in Ohio who actually thinks it's a good bonding experience to go re-enact Nazi battles with his son,” she said, without naming Mr. Iott.
Mr. Cantor, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Republicans “have got … a new crop of young leaders energized to go to Washington for the right reasons,” but then distanced himself from Mr. Iott without mentioning him by name.
“She knows that I would absolutely repudiate that and do not support an individual who would do something like that,” Mr. Cantor said.
Mr. Iott could not be reached for comment.
His spokesman, Matt Parker, downplayed Mr. Cantor's remarks.
The House minority whip is “just one member of Congress,” Mr. Parker said, adding that “no other member of Congress” has issued a statement regarding Mr. Iott.
Representatives from the Ohio GOP did not return calls for comment.
Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County GOP, could not be reached Sunday night.
“[Mr. Cantor] probably didn't have all of the facts,” Mr. Parker said.
“He's never met Rich Iott. He's never spoken to Rich Iott. He probably saw a picture and took it out of context. That's what I'm hoping.”
In the Atlantic story published online at theatlantic.com, pictures of Mr. Iott taken from the re-enactment group's Web site Wiking.org show him in the Waffen SS uniform.
The congressional candidate says the photos were taken several years ago at historic re-enactments that he and his son participated in as part of a father-son bonding experience.
Mr. Iott said he's also participated in Civil War re-enactments since college and says it is a way to discover history.
Mr. Iott said he stopped participating in the re-enactments when his son lost interest.
In a statement shortly after the story broke, Mr. Iott said in his re-enacting of military history, he's never “meant any disrespect to anyone who served in our military or anyone who has been affected by the tragedy of war, especially the Jewish Community.”
The Iott campaign said it tried to contact Mr. Cantor Sunday night.
“We've reached out to Congressman Cantor” for clarification of his remarks on Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Parker said. ‘‘It's probably a miscommunication. … I'm going to assume.”
Steve Fought, spokesman for Miss Kaptur's campaign, said Mr. Cantor's comments appear to indicate the GOP no longer supports Mr. Iott and questioned whether the local party would act to distance itself.
“What is important is what the local Republicans do. Right now, they're in hiding.
“They don't want to come out and pronounce judgment,” Mr. Fought said.