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Hopeful’s move into congressional district divides N.W. Georgia voters

Before Marjorie Taylor Greene, left, became a GOP candidate in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District she was running in the 6th District. Greene, who lived in Alpharetta, now rents a home in Rome, her campaign says. For some voters, her residency is an issue, but she also was the biggest vote-getter in the conservative district’s GOP primary on June 9. (Olivia Morley/The Rome News-Tribune via AP)
Before Marjorie Taylor Greene, left, became a GOP candidate in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District she was running in the 6th District. Greene, who lived in Alpharetta, now rents a home in Rome, her campaign says. For some voters, her residency is an issue, but she also was the biggest vote-getter in the conservative district’s GOP primary on June 9. (Olivia Morley/The Rome News-Tribune via AP)

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s political views line up well with many voters in Georgia’s conservative 14th Congressional District, which helped her lead a large pack of candidates in last month’s GOP primary.

Now, though, the transplanted candidate is facing resistance in a run against “a true hometown guy.”

When Greene first announced she was running for Congress, it was in the 6th Congressional District in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. She only joined the 14th District contest after U.S. Rep. Tom Graves surprised many by announcing his retirement.

Some voters in the northwest Georgia district are unsure Greene fully understands the issues they face.

“Milton politics are very different from mountain politics,” Georgia Young Republicans Chairman Colt Chambers said, “I firmly believe that elected officials, especially those representing us at the federal level, should have lived here for a year or two to get to know the issues that are related specifically to those that live here and that they’re representing before they decide to pursue public office.”

Greene's political campaign has been controversial for more than just her residency. She recently came under fire after several racist and xenophobic remarks she made resurfaced in a Politico report. Greene did not dispute or apologize for the comments. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, took back his endorsement of Greene after her comments surfaced. Greene has also embraced ties with far right conspiracy theorist group, QAnon, and posed for a photo with a longtime white supremacist.

Her residency, however, was more frequently cited by voters interviewed by the AJC who don’t support her.

Greene, a construction executive, lived in Alpharetta before moving to Rome to run for Congress. Her campaign said that she is renting a home in Rome.

For voters such as 65-year-old Rome resident Toby Barnett, that’s enough.

“I want someone who represents me to at least live in the district. But they don’t have to be a longtime resident. I don’t care if you just moved here. People move all the time,” Barnett said.

But other voters remain skeptical.

“She’s trying to buy a seat in Congress. I’ve never thought much of her because she doesn’t live here,” Rome bookstore owner Kenneth Studdard said, adding that he would “vote for anyone but her.”

Studdard will get another chance to vote in the Aug. 11 runoff pitting Greene, who bested the field of nine candidates in the June 9 primary with 40% of the vote , against neurosurgeon John Cowan. The winner will face off against Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal in November.

Cowan, who finished second in the primary with 21% of the vote, emphasizes that he’s the “hometown” candidate. He lives and works in Rome, where he grew up.

“He’s been serving his community for over a decade,” Cowan campaign manager Spencer Hogg said, “He’s a true hometown guy, hometown candidate.”

Candidates for Congress are required to live in the state they are running in but not necessarily the district. U.S. Rep. David Scott has never lived in Georgia’s 13th Congressional District, but he has represented the area west and south of Atlanta since 2003.

While living outside the district has not been a big problem for Scott, it was for media executive Jon Ossoff in 2017 when he ran in a special election in the 6th District. Ossoff, now the Democratic nominee in one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate races this year, took heavy criticism as an outsider in that earlier race, which he narrowly lost in a runoff.

Some voters in the 14th District said that they prioritize candidate values over residency.

“Just hearing about her and her support for gun rights is really what I like,” Rome voter Kenneth Huckabee said about his support for her.

Luke Martin, the chairman of the Floyd County Republican Party, said, “It’s actually been kind of interesting to see a lot of people don’t necessarily care that they’re from here.

“It’s a good point that the districts can change,” Martin said. “… A lot of people are seeing that, so I think that’s a kind of an interesting conversation.”