PITTSBURGH — The House Jan. 6 committee hearings appear to be breaking through in some of this fall’s most competitive congressional districts in key states, though the panel’s work does not appear to be making a major impact on how voters view candidates for Congress and governor.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Jan. 6 committee is whether voters, particularly in states such as Pennsylvania and Arizona, have taken notice of its findings. Of more than a dozen voters — Republicans, Democrats and those who identified as independents — interviewed in three hotly contested swing congressional districts in those two states, most indicated they were paying at least some attention to the committee. Their takeaways, however, differed, with some feeling the committee had strengthened the case for then-President Donald Trump’s culpability in the riot while others felt it amounted to congressional overreach.
Joseph Ganter, 73, from Ross Township, Pennsylvania, has been paying close attention to the committee, which is probing the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and its recent hearings. Ganter says he voted for Trump in 2016, Joe Biden in 2020 and now says he’ll never vote for president again, disillusioned with them both.
“In my opinion, he started it,” Ganter said of Trump, speaking with NBC News before last Thursday’s prime-time hearing, which he said he planned to watch. “He got on his [Twitter] and sent out messages and he let it go for, what, 90 minutes or something like that? And he let it go and I thought that was very wrong that he didn’t do a thing.”
Ganter, a longtime registered Democrat who now considers himself an independent, lives right in the heart of one of this fall’s most competitive House districts, Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District. He says he doesn’t think the committee will lead the Department of Justice “to do a damn thing” when it comes to potential consequences for Trump.
“Even though Trump was guilty on a lot of stuff, they’re not going to get him because they’re afraid it’s going to interrupt the country again,” he said. “So, you judge it for yourself.”
Robert, 72, from North Hills, who requested that his last name be withheld to share his opinion on touchy political issues, told NBC News that he had watched the committee’s first hearing, caught part of its second and followed news coverage closely.
“I think people have really begun to see how desperate Trump was to stay in office,” Robert, a lifelong Republican before voting for Biden in 2020, said. “And it seems like he would have gone to almost any extreme to remain in the office and he would have tried really hard to pull any strings he could. He thought that maybe he was above the law. Now things are coming back to bite him.”
The two men are the kinds of voters who could go a long way in deciding some of the more widely anticipated elections this fall, including for Senate and governor in Pennsylvania and Arizona. And they’re among the millions of Americans who have been watching the Jan. 6 hearings; Nielsen estimates that 17.7 million people watched Thursday’s prime-time hearing, and the hearings overall have each averaged 13.1 million viewers.
But the hearings did not seem to play a major factor in how either man was approaching how he would vote this fall. Both said they were leaning toward state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, in Pennsylvania’s high-stakes governor’s contest, against state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican who was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and has pushed election conspiracy theories. In the Senate contest, Robert said he was “very torn” between Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz, while Ganter said Oz’s limited history in the state was coloring his view of the race.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the open seat in their home district just outside Pittsburgh as a toss-up. NBC News also visited Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District around Scranton, where Cook rates Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright’s re-election as a toss-up, and Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, just east of Phoenix, where Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., is running for re-election in a contest the publication rates as leaning Democratic.
At a campaign event last week in northwestern Pennsylvania, Shapiro spoke at length about Mastriano’s presence outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, arguing Mastriano is “unfit” to oversee the state police because of his actions that day.
“When the police looked at Mastriano and the others and said stop, he kept marching,” Shapiro added.
Shapiro said it was hard to assess what impact the Jan. 6 hearings were having on his race, though he would continue to press Mastriano’s ties to Jan. 6 as part of his campaign.
“I think that makes him unfit,” he said. “I stand on the side of law enforcement, respecting law enforcement. He stood on the side of the insurrectionist mob.”
Recent surveys have shown the hearings may be making a difference in how some voters view the Jan. 6 attack, but, as with Ganter and Robert, they’re not making it a priority as a voting issue. An NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll released ahead of the committee’s prime-time hearing last week — with a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points — found that 80% of Democrats, 55% of independents and 44% of Republicans are paying at least some attention to the hearings.
The hearings have coincided with an uptick in independents now calling the riot “an insurrection and a threat to democracy,” with 52% of independents now saying so, an increase of 9 percentage points since December. Republicans, however, have barely budged in their views of the attack, with just 12% calling it an insurrection now, compared with 10% in December. And while 92% of Democrats and 57% of independents say Trump holds a “great deal” or a “good amount” of blame for Jan. 6, just 18% of Republicans said the same.
Still, just 9% of voters described the hearings as a top-of-mind voting issue, with Republicans caring more about inflation, Democrats caring more about abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and independents caring more about both.
Meanwhile, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released before last week’s hearing found that 40% of Republicans viewed Trump as at least partially responsible for Jan. 6, up 7 percentage points from its June survey. Just 1 in 4 respondents said they hadn’t followed the hearings at all. The survey had a margin of error of about 4 percentage points.
In Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, two voters who identified as independent told NBC News they had at least followed Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ testimony before the panel, offering him praise but adding they were still undecided on how they would vote this fall. Local Republicans, though, were more dismissive of the proceedings.
Peggy Marchi, 70, from Mesa, told NBC News she and others she knows in the area were not prioritizing the Jan. 6 hearings.
“I think they want things done on the border,” she said. “I think they want the economy, gas prices. They want all the same things. And they’re not interested in watching the Jan. 6, what they’re putting on TV. To me, that’s a wasted effort and everybody I’ve talked to says that it’s a waste of time and money.”
Carol Van Kley, an 81-year-old Republican from Mesa, said she did not care much for the committee but was certain others did.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who pay a lot of attention to it,” she said. “The Democrats. But I don’t know. I think people are really confused right now.”
The most recent hearing featured the committee’s investigation into the more than three hours between when the riot began and when Trump posted a video on Twitter telling his supporters to “go home.” The panel has sought to demonstrate Trump’s culpability for the attack by connecting his election lies to his call to action on Jan. 6, which many supporters heeded.
In her closing statement on Thursday, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice chair of the committee, made a direct appeal to Republicans as to why they should feel angered about Trump’s conduct. Nearly all of the witnesses who spoke during the committee’s hearings were also Republicans who at one time supported Trump — they worked in his White House, administration or campaign, or were elected state party leaders who faced pressure to overturn the election ahead of Jan. 6.
“Donald Trump knows that millions of Americans who supported him would stand up and defend our nation, were it threatened,” she said. “They would put their lives and freedom at stake to protect her. And he is preying on their patriotism, their sense of justice, and on Jan. 6, Donald Trump turned their love of country into a weapon against our Capitol and against our Constitution.”
In an interview after the last hearing, Russ Wend, a 64-year-old Republican from Luzerne County, in Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, said all he was hearing from the panel was the same thing over and over again.
“I don’t find that they’re doing anything,” he said. “They just keep repeating the same thing.”
Another Republican from the county, Mark Laverdi, 55, said he felt that while there may have been some wrongdoing on Trump’s part, the committee is going too far.
“I think they’re going a little overboard,” he said. “I mean, he’s out of office. You can’t say, ‘Just let the man be,’ but I just think they’re going overboard with it. Let a dead dog lay, you know?”
Doug Pickens, a 68-year-old Democrat from Pittsburgh, said that he’s watched every hearing and that his friends are very much tuned in. But he conceded many Republicans were unlikely to be swayed by the proceedings.
“I hope there’s that 15, 20% of undecided people that will watch it with an open mind,” he said. “And then make a different decision.”