Republican in Georgia runoff election denies trying run as a Democrat

Long before Republican Philip Singleton launched a campaign as a conservative candidate for an open Georgia House seat, he walked into a Democratic Party meeting to court more liberal voters.

What exactly he said during the Coweta County Democratic Party meeting in August 2017 to promote his long-shot U.S. House campaign is not clear. Singleton says he didn’t try to identify as a Democrat or an independent candidate, but two attendees said he didn’t exactly align himself with the Republican Party either.

Those remarks matter more now as Singleton faces an Oct. 1 runoff against fellow Republican Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison for the Newnan-based seat vacated by Republican state Rep. David Stover.

Singleton was the top finisher in the Sept. 3 election, securing about 37% of the vote. Sakrison received about 34%. Since neither won a majority of the ballots cast, a runoff is required.

Singleton and Sakrison are jockeying for conservative voters — and engaging in a proxy fight over Republican House Speaker David Ralston. Any suggestion that Singleton once considered abandoning the party could hurt him.

He has pushed back hard on those claims, saying his ideals of small government, balancing the budget and lowering taxes make him the true conservative in the race.

“I’ve been a Republican my whole life,” he said. “At no time did I ever pretend to be anything other than what I am.”

But Sakrison — daughter of former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who now serves on the state Board of Transportation — makes sure to mention her opponent’s visits to two Democratic Party meetings is part of her closing pitch to voters. At a recent debate in Newnan, she accused him of trying to run as a Democrat or an independent.

“Republicans deserve a real conservative, not a member of the ‘opportunist party,’ ” Sakrison said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Singleton, an Army veteran, ran as a Republican in 2018 against incumbent U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson in Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District. He lost the Republican primary, getting about 26% of the vote.

As he was ramping up his congressional campaign, Singleton said he visited the Democratic Party meetings of Coweta and Carroll counties in 2017 to learn what issues were important to them.

Bryce Remkes, who lived in Coweta County at the time, said Singleton attended the Coweta meeting in August 2017 and asked to speak.

“He said he was running for Congress, that he was not a Democrat and not a Republican but was an independent,” Remkes said. “And he said his affiliation did not all align with the Republican Party. He wanted to run as an independent.”

Remkes, who briefly sought the Democratic nomination to challenge Stover in 2017 before dropping out of the race, said Singleton asked those at the meeting to consider voting for him if they did not want to support the Democrat in the congressional race.

Jimmy Glenn, who served as the Coweta County Democratic Party’s first vice chairman at the time, remembered Singleton’s visit differently. Glenn said Singleton introduced himself as the Democratic candidate in the congressional race.

While Singleton spoke to attendees, Glenn said he pulled up Singleton’s website on his cellphone, where it said Singleton was a Republican.

“The chair then stood up and cut him off at that point,” Glenn said. “The things he was saying to the group did not match what his website was saying.”

Singleton said he never tried to pretend he was a Democrat. He said as soon as the Coweta Democrats learned that he was a Republican, he was asked to leave.

Singleton said he identified himself as an independent in his initial Federal Elections Commission fundraising paperwork to “prevent the (Republican) establishment from attacking me.”

“I think the timing is interesting,” he said. “It mirrors, exactly, the lies being spread about me from my opponent’s campaign. It’s a coordinated effort by the establishment campaign to paint me as something I’m not.”

Sakrison is supported by prominent Republicans, including Ralston, while Singleton has called on the Blue Ridge Republican to step down as House speaker.

Ralston, a defense attorney, has come under criticism after an investigation this year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News showed he had a long history of delaying criminal cases by claiming court dates interfered with his legislative duties.