The Jolt: A ‘bimbo’ eruption in a GOP congressional race

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It’s no secret that women have a difficult time surviving Republican primaries in Georgia. It wasn’t until 2017 that Karen Handel became the first Republican woman that Georgia had sent to Washington.

It's no secret that women have a difficult time surviving Republican primaries in Georgia. It wasn't until 2017 that Karen Handel became the first Republican woman that Georgia had sent to Washington.

The hemorrhaging of female voters in suburban Atlanta is one reason that Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate in January. She’s had a rough four months. Much of it has been of her own making, but not all.

Yet we would be hard put to come up a more blatant example of gender hostility than the anonymous mailer that began showing up in Forsyth and Gwinnett counties late last week, attacking state Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford, one of several candidates in the GOP primary to replace U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville.

The dominant headline: “Why the bimbo?” The author couldn’t even spell her name right. It’s “Renee,” not “Rene.”

“Rene Unterman has lost her looks, despite expensive plastic surgery and Botox injections, proving once again, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But is still stupid, dishonest, evasive, inept and ethically conflicted,” says the mailer.

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On her campaign Facebook page, Unterman -- one of only two GOP women in the state Senate -- referred to the mailer as "unsourced and unfounded cowardice."

“As I’ve stood strong for conservative values, I’ve seen how liberals and weak-kneed Republicans alike will do anything they can to stop me,” she wrote.

The source of the attack is almost certainly Republican. A Democratic attack would have led on Unterman’s successful sponsorship of House Bill 481, last year’s measure to ban nearly all abortions in Georgia. It would not have led with the pejorative “bimbo” – given that three of the leaders in the Seventh District race are women: Georgia State University professor Carolyn Bourdeaux, state Sen. Zahra Karinshak of Duluth, and state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero of Norcross.

Are there legitimate issues on which a fellow Republican might challenge Unterman? Sure. She's been at the state Capitol since 1999. Before that, she was a member of the Gwinnett County Commission and mayor of Loganville. She's got a record, and has taken more than one provocative position in her career.

But if Botox is the first shot you fire, then you’ve sacrificed your own credibility – and you don’t help a Georgia GOP that has lost its foothold among women voters.

Unterman talked about the mailer in an interview with Martha Zoller on WDUN (550AM). 

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Speaking of Renee Unterman: Former Gov. Nathan Deal has endorsed her in the Seventh District contest, calling her an advocate who "never stops working."

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Aside from a small protest organized by Shane Hazel, a Republican-turned-Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, Georgia has avoided the large-scale demonstrations against coronavirus crackdowns that rocked Michigan and other states.

But a larger gathering is afoot. On Facebook, a group calling itself "Reopen GA" plans a noon rally on Friday at the state Capitol. Organizers are encouraging demonstrators circle the Gold Dome:

"Bring as many vehicles as possible! Decorate your cars with banners, break out your American flags, turn on your headlights and flashers, honk your horns and if you get stuck in traffic, don't get out! That's the point."

Several of Kemp's Republican allies have urged him to immediately lift restrictions, and commissioners in Monroe County, just north of Macon, passed a resolution that formally called on him to restart the economy when the shelter-in-place order expires at the end of the month. Several Georgia Republican lawmakers appear ready to side with those demanding an end to the shelter-in-place policy. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe (the city), was among members of the House Freedom Caucus who have sent a letter to President Donald Trump, endorsing an opening of the economy. One passage:

"The American people have responded to the guidelines and the effects are apparent…Unfortunately, some of the measures enacted to combat the virus have wreaked havoc on the American economy. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and many businesses have had to close."

State Rep. David Clark recently put up a lengthy post on his Facebook page that included this:

"I fear that we have allowed hysteria to let government slowly take away our God given rights to supposedly 'keep us safe.' This isn't keeping us safe, but leading us to more death, both literally and metaphorically."

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Public health experts warn that, without widespread testing, ending shelter-in-place would lead to a resurgence of the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has pushed this challenge down to the nation's governors. And late last week, Gov. Brian Kemp appeared ready to hold businesses responsibile for testing. From a piece by the AJC's Willoughby Mariano and J. Scott Trubey:

"We can definitely do more than we're doing," Kemp said Thursday.

"We can definitely help, but we need the private sector to step up. We need to have a test where people can basically immediately test themselves before they leave the house and go to work.

"The government in my opinion is not going to be the answer," Kemp said.

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Already posted: The Great Recession forced state governments across the country to lay off or furlough millions of workers and cut services to everything from schools to parks, but some warn the coronavirus pandemic could cause even more economic pain, according to our AJC colleague James Salzer:

Predictions are that states could combine to face up to a $500 billion shortfall over the next few years without more federal aid as unemployment remains high and businesses shutter or struggle to regain their footing.

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The weekend's live-streamed benefit concert called "One World: Together at Home" raised more than $127 million for coronavirus relief efforts. One of the organizers was the World Health Organization, which has been targeted by President Donald Trump.

So it's significant that one of the concert's supporters was Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of Atlanta-based CARE.

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., clearly wants to shift public attention away from her stock transactions -- and toward Georgia's response to the coronavirus crisis.

The senator has launched a “Georgia Relief and Recovery” website with details about the outbreak. She’s touted her role on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. She’s trumpeted every federal allotment - big or small - of federal funds to fight the disease.

And she did a round of interviews with outlets in AlbanyMacon and north Georgia, the latter during a visit responding to the tornadoes that struck last week.

Speaking with The Albany Herald, she struck a different tone when asked about the Nov. 3 race against U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and 18 other candidates to keep her seat. Said Loeffler:

"My No. 1 priority is to focus on supporting Georgia with any needs the state has. That's all I'm focusing on, delivering those needs. I want to do all I can do to help Georgia come out of this strong. I'll turn to campaigning when the time is appropriate."

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Rome neurosurgeon John Cowan is one of the top fundraisers in the 14th District race to succeed U.S. Tom Graves, R-Ranger. He's also earned scrutiny for some of his campaign rhetoric, our AJC colleague Sarah Kallis reports.

Echoing President Donald Trump’s line, Cowan has repeatedly criticized China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. He blamed China’s “cover-ups and lies” for a pandemic that’s killed more 30,000 Americans.

But Cowan has his own ties to China. He owns a toy company called Cortex Toys that relies on trade from China, and records show his company shipped products to and from China as recently as December.

Pressed by the AJC on how he reconciles his business relationship with China and his vocal criticism of the country, Cowan said he’d like to manufacture his toys in the U.S. but can only find some of the product lines in China.

He also said he’s in the process of selling the toy company and won’t be involved with the firm if he’s elected.

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Members of Congress from Georgia are adjusting to this new normal of working from home like the rest of us: endless streams of conference calls and video chats. Only on the other end of their conversations are President Donald Trump, public health officials, local nonprofits and industry executives.

Washington insider Tia Mitchell has more about how members are pivoting from a job that once relied heavily on tradition and in-person meetings to one that is heavy on the technology. Meanwhile, requests from constituents have increased and many of them are also simultaneously running campaigns.

More from Mitchell, who reached out to the entire congressional delegation for insight about how they made the transition:

"I certainly miss my grandchildren, children, dad and other family members," said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler. "Like many Americans, I can't wait to see them again soon. But we all need to do our part to help end the pandemic as soon as possible."

… U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and his wife wear gloves and masks whenever they venture outside, careful not to risk infecting his 93-year-old mother, who lives with them.

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk spoke to a Sunday school class via videoconference on Easter, then livestreamed morning services. He is also catching up on yardwork and home repairs.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath said she gets in more walks with her dog, Harley. U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her husband are ordering takeout to help support local restaurants. 

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter misses his barber. Many of them are cooking more and giving their dresses and suits a rest.

Said U.S. Rep. Jody Hice: "Less ties; more T-shirts."

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Speaking of Georgia's congressional delegation: There is a chance members could be called back to Washington this week to vote on additional money for the federal Paycheck Protection Program meant to help keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic.

The program ran out of money last week with only a fraction of businesses receiving aid, and it has sparked debate about rules that allowed large restaurant companies to also benefit.

Nearly 30,000 Georgia businesses were approved for roughly $6.7 billion in loans, which can be forgiven, according to the most recent report. New numbers are expected today.

The U.S. House has discussed a proposal that would allow its members for the first time in history to cast votes by designating a colleague as their proxy. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said if the rules are changed, proxy voting will only be allowed temporarily and under strict guidelines.

The last time the House had an in-person vote was March 27, when a conservative representative from Kentucky stood in the way of a plan to pass the CARES Act coronavirus stimulus bill by unanimous consent. At the time, he angered colleagues from both sides of the aisle for requiring a majority of members to travel to Washington even while shelter-in-place rules were being enforced across the nation.

At least seven of Georgia's 14 House members came to Washington for that vote.