Guns, money and Trump take center stage in 9th District race

Republican Andrew Clyde, left, faces Democrat Devin Pandy in the 2020 general election for Georgia's 9th Congressional District.

Clyde, Pandy differ in style and substance

One look at Andrew Clyde’s yard sign tells you almost everything you need to know about his race to replace U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District. The red, white and black sign puts Clyde’s name in stark relief above the dark silhouette of an AR-15, along with a single message: “Protect the 2nd.”

His staff tried to warn him, he said at a recent Republican picnic in Dahlonega, that guns on yard signs would be “too edgy.” But Clyde, a trim man who still wears a high-and-tight military-style haircut, insisted.

“I sell guns for a living. That’s what I do. That’s me,” he said, pointing to a stack of his signs. “That defines me in many ways.”

It’s a high-contrast image in a high-contrast race, which pits Clyde, a gun store owner and firearms dealer who served in the Navy, against Devin Pandy, a Democrat and decorated Army combat veteran.

Both come from military traditions — Clyde can trace his to the Continental Army, while Pandy’s father spent a career in the U.S. Army after bringing his young family from Belize. But the two have radically different approaches to the issues defining politics today and the job they say they’d do in Congress.

The road to run

After 11 years of active duty, Clyde landed in Athens, where he earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Georgia and taught aviation logistics at the Navy Supply Corps School. In 1991, he also started a business selling firearms from his garage, a hobby he still calls “a passion.”

The passion eventually grew into Clyde Armory, a multimillion-dollar gun and ammunition operation with two stores in Georgia and a sprawling government contracting business supplying firearms to law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and the federal government.

A 2013 run-in with the Internal Revenue Service “completely changed the direction of my life,” he said, when the agency seized nearly $1 million of assets from his store following a series of otherwise legal bank deposits that it deemed suspicious. Clyde fought the IRS to return his money, which it did, and also lobbied Collins to change the law allowing such seizures, which passed in 2020.

“I’m a fighter,” he said. “But I don’t just believe in fighting. I believe in fighting and winning.”

Pandy’s path to a congressional run came after retiring as a chief warrant officer, a top advisory role with a specialty in live field intelligence. Five combat deployments included Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Tikrit, Iraq, where he suffered serious injuries that he lives with today.

Like many wounded veterans, Pandy hesitates to detail his injuries and how they happened, not just because he is modest, but because he feels guilty mentioning them.

“I feel a guilt in that because no matter what I’ve gone through, there is someone out there that has gone through worse,” he said.

Pandy now sports a bushy “retirement beard at COVID length.” Since retiring in 2014, he has traveled extensively and worked as an actor in television and theater. But it was a moment in 2019, watching Collins defend President Donald Trump and rip into State Department employees during the House impeachment trial, that activated Pandy’s run for Congress.

“He was beating down and disrespecting those who I see to be true patriots,” Pandy said. “And in that moment, I could not sit on the sidelines any longer and simply watch.”

‘A lot of anger’

“There’s just a lot of anger out there among the electorate,” said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, who ran in the GOP primary against Clyde. “People are upset, and people are very much anti-establishment and anti-anybody they associate with the establishment.”

That’s a sentiment Clyde has put at the center of his campaign. If elected, he said he would like to de-regulate guns entirely, including silencers, and prohibit taxes on munitions. “If you can tax a constitutional right, as our firearms rights have been taxed, then you can tax it out of existence,” he said.

He would also abolish the IRS and spend the balance of his time focusing on military issues, ideally as a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He would also, he added, support Trump.

“I believe in law and order,” he said. “I think that our president needs our support in order to maintain the safety and security of our country.”

Pandy, by contrast, takes a more nuanced approach to nearly every issue he’d work on in Congress, including the Second Amendment. He says its protections should be limited only for people who abuse the right to bear arms.

“Absolutely, I support the Second Amendment. I have my own (gun),” he said. “I just don’t feel that I need to put it on my yard sign in order to make you feel like I am one of you.”

His campaign promises “progress for rural Georgia,” including ensuring affordable health care, inceasing the minimum wage, helping farmers and providing affordable housing for homeless veterans.

He said he’d work with anyone in Congress, regardless of party, to come up with the best solution for the most people. “I am not here to argue or to prove my point or to force my beliefs on anyone,” he said. “I have fought for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I am going to continue to fight for this district in Washington.”

Clyde heads into November with a steep partisan advantage. Trump won the district in 2016 with 77.8% of the vote. He has also had the advantage of mostly self-funding his campaign. While Pandy has raised just $20,000, according to the latest public disclosures, Clyde has amassed $876,000, including $740,000 of his own money.

In a recent debate with Pandy, Clyde also acknowledged receiving between $150,00 and $300,000 this year from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he used for salaries and operating expenses at Clyde Armory.

Clyde said he supported the PPP program, but not the enhanced unemployment benefits, passed as part of COVID relief this spring. “We should never be incentivizing people not to work," he said. "And the PPP incentivizes people to work.”

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