Republican Michael Williams’ “deportation bus tour” hit some speed bumps Thursday in a quest for attention and outrage in the closing days of the primary for governor.
The grey-painted vehicle, emblazoned with “fill this bus with illegals,” broke down early Thursday in between stops in north Georgia. Critics took to social media to compare the sputtering engine’s plight to his longshot bid for governor.
That came after DeKalb County authorities sought to debunk his claim that a protest at a stop near Decatur turned violent. And a restaurant chain, meanwhile, put Williams on notice that his bus was not welcome there.
The state senator is one of five GOP candidates in Tuesday’s primary for governor, and recent polls show him at 3 percent of support. Democrats are trying to make him the face of the Georgia GOP, while his better-known rivals are largely ignoring him.
His bus tour comes amid toughening talk over illegal immigration from other GOP candidates. Secretary of State Brian Kemp aired an ad saying he’d “round up criminal illegals” from his pickup truck himself. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle vowed to dispatch Georgia National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.
Williams, who has raised scant money and spent little on TV advertising, relied on a wave of media coverage this week after launching the tour. At his stops Wednesday, he was met with far more protesters than supporters.
“This is encouraging people to take matters into their own hands, and that type of language is dangerous,” said Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
“Candidates shouldn’t be flippant about doing this,” he added. “If they support the rule of law, they wouldn’t support vigilantism.”
After a stop in Decatur, which is at the center of an ongoing feud with Cagle over immigration policy, Williams’ campaign manager claimed “radical liberals” blocked the bus from leaving, shoved staffers and attempted to deface the bus.
DeKalb County police issued a statement late Wednesday that said multiple officers on the scene “did not observe any violence or criminal activity” and said Williams has failed to back up his claim. It asked for witnesses to contact authorities immediately.
The restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, meanwhile, notified Williams that his bus was prohibited from campaigning outside its restaurants, citing a policy not to host political events. Several stops on the bus tour were to take place at the restaurant’s locations.
“We are not sponsoring this event or supporting Mr. Williams’ campaign stops in any way, and per our company policy, we will not allow him – or any political candidate – to host an event on Cracker Barrel’s property,” the restaurant said in a statement.
“We take pride in showing our communities and our country that the hospitality we practice is indeed welcoming and inclusive to all.”
The five GOP candidates for governor will gather tonight at 7 for the Atlanta Press Club debate. We’d imagine the rhetoric on illegal immigration will come up a time or two.
In endorsement news today:
Former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland backed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s campaign for governor.
Ex-presidential candidate Gary Bauer and the Campaign for Working Families endorsed Republican David Shafer’s bid for lieutenant governor.
The Georgia Right to Life PAC backed Republican Josh McKoon’s campaign for Secretary of State.
Democrat Lindy Miller’s campaign for Public Service Commission nabbed the endorsement of former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, environmental activist Laura Turner Seydel and ex-6th District candidate Jon Ossoff.
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