Challengers tap voter anger in race to topple Georgia’s Loudermilk

About the candidates

Barry Loudermilk

Campaign website:

Twitter: @standwithbarry

Hometown: Cassville

Age: 52

Occupation: U.S. congressman

Family: Wife, Desiree, three children

Hayden Collins

Campaign website:

Twitter: @Collins4the11th

Hometown: Cartersville

Age: 50

Occupation: Project manager for engineering consulting firm

Family: Wife, Sandra, four children

Daniel Cowan

Campaign website:

Twitter: @cowanforcongress

Hometown: Kennessaw

Age: 39

Occupation: Owns private investment bank

Family: Wife, Amber, four children

Billy Davis

Campaign website:

Twitter: @votebillydavis

Hometown: Kennesaw

Age: 70

Occupation: Business owner

Family: Wife, Billie, three children, five grandchildren, one great-grandchild.

William Llop

Campaign website:

Twitter: @VoteforWilliam

Hometown: Sandy Springs

Age: 57

Occupation: Owns accounting firm

Family: Wife, Mary Lynn, two children

Note: Also ran for Congress in 2012

Primary just days away

Voters will go to the polls May 24 to select party nominees for legislative seats across the state. As the vote nears, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will give you a look at how key races are shaping up and what issues are having the greatest impact.

Barry Loudermilk’s challengers in Tuesday’s 11th District Republican primary have all sought to lambaste the first-term congressman as a back-stabbing establishment junkie, an attempt to tap into voter anger at Washington and the politicians they say continue to let them down.

Tuesday’s vote will say much about whether that anger is limited to a loud minority of GOP voters or a sign that the age of incumbency’s inherent power truly is over.

Loudermilk, a former state lawmaker from Bartow County, faces off against project manager Hayden Collins, investment banker Daniel Cowan, businessman Billy Davis and accountant William Llop. No Democrat is running, so whoever ultimately wins the Republican nomination wins the seat.

All four challengers point to Loudermilk’s Jan. 6, 2015, vote — his first as a member of Congress — to re-elect John Boehner as speaker of the House as one of the primary reasons they stepped up to challenge Loudermilk. Throw in a late 2015 vote to pass a massive spending plan known as the omnibus spending bill and the four contenders say they have a mandate to take on an incumbent who betrayed their conservative principles.

In Cherokee County, all of which is in the 11th District, GOP Chairman Rick Davies said the anger is real.

“I’ve actually had some folks tell me they feel very powerless,” Davies said. They want somebody in there in whatever position, from local up to federal, that more accurately reflects their beliefs and what they should be concentrating on.”

Davies suspects he’s hearing from “the vocal minority who are probably upset and concerned.”

A vocal minority can’t unseat Loudermilk, but the 52-year-old Air Force veteran has had to work to explain those controversial votes.

John Marinko lives north of Woodstock in Cherokee. He has supported Loudermilk for years.

“Quite frankly, I was more (upset with) Barry for having voted for Boehner in the beginning,” said Marinko, 70. “He told me, quite frankly, he would not vote him in and of course he did. I said, ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ ”

But, once he heard Loudermilk’s explanation — that the new congressman voted against Boehner in the GOP caucus meeting, but he quickly learned to publicly vote against the speaker would only sabotage his standing from the beginning — Marinko said he came to peace with it himself.

“We got it straightened out,” Marinko said. “And then Boehner did finally go the way of the rubbish.”

On the omnibus bill, a $1.1 trillion spending plan, Loudermilk and eight other Georgia Republicans banded together and agreed to vote for it in exchange for having language removed that could have weakened the state’s position in the long-running water waters with Alabama and Florida.

Marinko, for one, was satisfied. So were influential conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union, both of which endorsed Loudermilk’s re-election.

George Nemcheck is not impressed. The 62-year-old from Marietta is voting for Davis.

“Billy Davis is a conservative,” Nemcheck said. “He’s a self-funding outsider. He’s a good guy, businessman. He’s donating his salary to vets. Those are the general reasons I think he’s worthy of a vote.”

But Nemcheck said Loudermilk’s vote for the omnibus spending bill also plays a role.

“I’m in my 60s and I think $19 trillion (in federal debt) is disgraceful,” he said. “And it’s going up. And that vote darn sure went the wrong direction.”

Karen Ruff, a retired Cartersville teacher, said she has nothing against Loudermilk.

“All I’m telling you is Daniel Cowan to me cannot be beaten,” Ruff said. “He’s just of the highest integrity. He’s a great Christian guy. Whatever he says he’ll do. He will literally keep his promises.”

If Loudermilk ultimately prevails and wins a second term, this primary will make him a better congressman, Robert Potts of Smyrna said.

Potts, 28, said Loudermilk deserves another term.

“Those who are challenging him, that’s fine,” Potts said. “It keeps him honest, lets him know there are people in the district watching him.”

The next primary is only two years away.