U.S. Rep. Jody Hice didn’t even face token Democratic opposition in 2016. But two Democrats are now racing to compete him in what could be a test of how far the party is willing to lurch to the left in a deeply-conservative northeast Georgia district.
Chalis Montgomery entered the race months ago after trying to confront Hice at a town hall meeting over his refusal to support the Affordable Care Act. Her platform is a progressive one: She backs a minimum wage of $15, a surge of infrastructure investment and a “Medicare for all” plan.
Her new opponent is trying to outgun her on the party’s flank. Richard Dien Winfield, a University of Georgia philosophy professor, formally entered the race last week at an event headlined by one-time Senate candidate Jim Barksdale.
In a lengthy statement, Winfield channeled Bernie Sanders with a plan he said would “allow us to participate as equals in our democracy.”
It starts with a federal job guarantee – modeled after New Deal programs - that would employ millions with a mission to build new schools and affordable housing, expand public transit and lay broadband internet lines.
The government would guarantee affordable housing and eliminate utility runoffs, evictions and foreclosures. College tuition would be free and fulltime students would receive stipends. So would child-care and elder-care facilities.
And he’d support a “legal care for all” program – a single-payer health system – to cover personal criminal and civil legal representation to “defend ourselves against sexual harassment, discrimination or corporate abuse.”
“I am running with the confidence that this bold platform can energize the Democratic base and win over enough independents and Trump supporters to defeat his servile apologist, Jody Hice,” said Winfield.
The district, held by Hice since 2014, is one of the most conservative in Georgia. Donald Trump carried it with 61 percent of the vote, slightly lower than the 63 percent Mitt Romney collected in the area in 2012.
A longshot it might be, Democrats are hoping a wave election can bring a tsunami of voters to the polls.
Their hopes hinge on high turnout around Athens, the bluest part of the district, and tepid GOP enthusiasm in the rest of the territory. That’s what helped a pair of Democratic newcomers flip two Athens-area state House seats in special elections last year.
And they’ll try to paint Hice, a pastor and former radio host with a deeply-conservative voting record, as too far to the right for the district and a Trump lackey.
Hice, for his part, shows no sign of abandoning the president: He recently tweeted a picture of him and Trump at the college football title game.