Former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, at a Democratic event in Atlanta last month. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Georgia Senate: Tomlinson vows to ‘torpedo’ GOP’s rural strategy 

Democrat aims to send a message with her Columbus HQ

Just about every major Georgia candidate for higher office has staged their headquarters out of metro Atlanta the last decade. Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson aimed to send a message with her decision to buck that trend.

The former Columbus mayor celebrated the debut of her main campaign office Saturday in her hometown with a marching band, food trucks and a fiery speech that argued she’s the only Democrat who can compete with U.S. Sen. David Perdue in rural Georgia. 

“Let me tell you how you win this election: You run a formidable woman from outside metro Atlanta with good name recognition and reputation in central and south Georgia, and we will torpedo the Republican rural strategy,” said Tomlinson. “And David Perdue will never win this race.” 

Left unmentioned, by name at least, were the other three would-be Perdue challengers who are based in metro Atlanta: Sarah Riggs Amico, who lives in suburban Cobb County; Jon Ossoff, who recently bought a house in intown Atlanta; and Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry.

Tomlinson, too, has deep Atlanta ties. She grew up in suburban Atlanta and went to Chamblee High School and Emory University’s law school before moving to Columbus. But she’s placing a bet that a more intense focus outside of Atlanta will pay off. 

It’s a calculated risk. In the 2018 election, Casey Cagle of Gainesville and Brian Kemp of Athens both planted their gubernatorial headquarters in metro Atlanta.

And in 2014, Perdue based his campaign’s main office in Atlanta despite his roots in Warner Robins and residence in Sea Island. His 2020 base is in Atlanta, too.

They’re trying to capitalize on proximity to volunteers, operatives and press coverage for an area approaching 6 million people – no small consideration in a crowded Senate campaign that will also have to compete for attention with the still-developing contest for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat.

Democrats, too, have struggled to make inroads in rural Georgia after generations of dominating the region. In the last two votes, Republicans have solidified their grip on broad stretches of more sparsely populated parts of the state even as Democrats notch big suburban victories.  

‘The co-pilot’

Tomlinson hopes her stand in Columbus sets her apart. She told a boisterous audience not to get the wrong impression of gilded gentry when she says she’s an eighth-generation Georgian. Seven of those generations were locked in “rank, rural poverty.” 

“We come from a long line of day labor timber cutters and sharecroppers,” she said. “My grandfather had a third-grade education. His wife had an eighth-grade education. She taught him how to read and write.”

She continued:

“I bring that perspective to this awesome responsibility that we face here today. I understand the journeys of people’s lives all over this state. I can go into central and south Georgia, north Georgia and Atlanta. I respect the journeys their lives, their ancestries, have brought to this point. And I tell them that I know government touches their lives every single day. And I know we are going to be the framework in which you’re going to live your most prosperous life.” 

She called Perdue a “vulnerable” candidate who has “failed this state” with his ties to President Donald Trump. She said that allegiance led him to support tariffs that hurt Georgia farmers and to “incompetently” handle Hurricane Michael relief

“He is the enabler, the influencer, the co-pilot of this president.” 

She contended that her biggest difference with Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive, is not about experience or policy. It’s a contrast over philosophy. 

Perdue believes that U.S. government is the problem, Tomlinson said, and she sees it as the “greatest civic invention that man has ever known.”

“Let me tell you something – our government is us. This government, these United States, is us,” she said, as she crisscrossed a blue-backed stage. “So, if there’s a problem, there’s a problem with who we are sending to lead it. Not with the government.” 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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