GOP congressional candidate’s comments divide Georgia’s 14th District

Signs promoting Dr. John Cowan’s campaign in the 14th Congressional District’s GOP primary are plastered in the window of a business on Broad Street in historic downtown Rome. Cowan is facing Marjorie Taylor Greene in the Aug. 11 runoff. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Signs promoting Dr. John Cowan’s campaign in the 14th Congressional District’s GOP primary are plastered in the window of a business on Broad Street in historic downtown Rome. Cowan is facing Marjorie Taylor Greene in the Aug. 11 runoff. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Republican elected officials and party leaders are condemning GOP congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene after racist and xenophobic comments she made on videos posted to social media were discovered.

Still, Greene remains the front-runner in the 14th Congressional District and has a good chance of winning the August runoff and November general election.

The possibility that a candidate who has expressed extremist views and spreads QAnon conspiracy theories could actually win a seat in Congress has brought national attention to the northwest Georgia-based race.

Voters on the ground, however, are divided about Greene. For some, her message is appealing even as it turns off some of the party establishment.

“I guess maybe you don’t say that in public, but I do kind of agree with her,” said Beverly Bottsford, a retired medical assistant in Rome. “I don’t feel like I’m racist, though.”

Kenneth Huckabee, 65, said he has been a loyal supporter of Greene’s and will vote for her in August despite her remarks. He also doesn’t mind that prominent Republican leaders have condemned her behavior.

“I don’t like anyone who is too far involved in being with the establishment,” Huckabee said. “I really don’t like cowardly people in Congress.”

Other voters are supporting Dr. John Cowan, the Rome-based neurosurgeon and business owner who finished second to Greene in this month's GOP primary and is now her competition in the runoff.

Kenneth Studdard, a 54-year-old bookstore owner in Rome, said Greene’s comments were troubling and he also was bothered by her move into the district to campaign.

“I’m voting for John Cowan, but if he wasn’t running, I would vote for anyone but her,” he said. “I want someone from here to represent me.”

Although some 14th District residents disliked that Greene was still living in the Atlanta area when she entered this race, she was able to channel her social media following, personal wealth and backing from a GOP political group to a first-place finish in the primary.

Few Republicans outside the district weighed in during the nine-person primary contest, even as some privately bristled at her bombastic and conspiracist approach.

That changed after last week's Politico article, which included a montage of some of Greene's most problematic comments. She spoke of an "Islamic invasion into our government offices" and called Jewish businessman George Soros a Nazi. Greene told her audience that gangs, drugs and lack of education were holding black and brown men down in America, adding, "that's not a white person thing."

The 14th District’s voters are overwhelmingly Republican, meaning whoever wins the runoff is likely to have an easy time beating Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal in the general election.

And that explains why many established Republicans are saying Greene is not the right person to represent the party.

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and six Georgia congressmen — U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, Buddy Carter, Doug Collins, Drew Ferguson, Jody Hice and Austin Scott — were among those who criticized Greene's remarks.

“There is absolutely no place in America for those comments; they are terrible, and they are frequent,” said Ferguson, R-West Point. “And that is a real shame. I don’t think that she can be very effective as a legislator in Washington, and I just don’t think that there is a place in Congress for her.”

Many of these party leaders also backed Cowan. “The endorsements are coming in like a tsunami,” a Cowan campaign spokesman said the day the article appeared.

Among them was Hice, who is a member of the House Freedom Caucus that helped recruit Greene to run in the 14th District and donated $200,000 to her campaign. She also put $700,000 of her own money into the race, in total raising nearly $1.2 million.

By contrast, Cowan’s campaign raised just shy of $700,000, including a $100,000 loan from the candidate. The rest was in donations of $5,000 or less from individuals or political committees.

Although the Freedom Caucus as an organization is still backing Greene, Hice and U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina are among its members who are not.

“In the midst of these difficult times, it is more important than ever before that we have leaders in Washington who can heal our nation, not divide it further,” Hice said. “I find Marjorie Taylor Greene’s statements appalling and deeply troubling, and I can no longer support her candidacy in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District.”

Greene was neither apologetic nor contrite about the comments she made. She lashed out at the news media and fellow conservatives for caving to what she said was fear and a desire to be politically correct.

“Every Republican, every Christian Conservative is going to be called a racist and a bigot by the Fake News Media, as have Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney,” Greene posted on Twitter. “I’m sorry my future colleagues are unable to stand up to the pressure and fight back.

“I’m sick-and-tired of watching establishment Republicans play defense while the Fake News Media cheers on Antifa terrorists, (Black Lives Matter) rioters, and the woke cancel culture, as they burn our cities, loot our businesses, vandalize our memorials, and divide our nation.”

Party leaders say they worry that Greene could hurt efforts to diversify their ranks and attract young people.

“I feel very confident in saying that the Young Republicans is one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse, organization within the Republican Party,” said Colt Chambers, the chair of the Georgia Young Republicans. “And so obviously some of these comments she’s made have been racially charged or anti-Semitic, and those things are just not acceptable. There’s no room for racism within the Republican Party because that goes against everything the party was founded on.”

Chambers said he feels confident that Greene has reached her limit, as far as support in the 14th.

“I think her loyal supporters will definitely stick with her,” he said. “Her message resonates well with her support base. But she only received 40% of the vote in the primary, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she receives the same percentage in the runoff.”

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