A retired U.S. Army colonel and former Coca-Cola executive entered the race for the competitive suburban 6th Congressional District on Tuesday with a pledge to stick it to “weak-kneed politicians who would rather hug than fight.”
Eric Welsh launched his campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath as an outsider unafraid to confront politicians on both sides of the party line, backed by a glossy introduction video that highlights his challenging childhood, his 27-year career in the military and his conservative platform.
“I’ve been in pretty tough situations, but Congress shouldn’t be one of them,” Welsh said in the video. “We need to show leadership by fighting the socialist agenda, end the cancel culture and defend the values I fought to protect and preserve.”
He’s the second military veteran to challenge McBath, who flipped the seat in 2018 and fended off a rematch against Republican Karen Handel two years later. But the contours of the district won’t be clear until lawmakers redraw the lines later this year, so it’s not clear how vulnerable the incumbent will be.
Welsh has a storied military career that includes combat tours in Iraq, where he was among the first U.S. troops to put boots on the ground in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He later returned in 2006-2007, when he commanded the same cavalry unit once led by Lt. Col. George Custer.
On the trail, he said he intends to highlight his upbringing as much as his military service. He said he was “essentially an orphan” at the age of 9 when his mother died, his father abandoned him and his grandmother enrolled him in a school for disadvantaged youths.
When he enlisted in the military, a recruiter who handled the paperwork discovered Welsh was the grandson of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the famed World War II Marine Corps air ace whose Black Sheep Squadron became the stuff of books and films.
In an interview, Welsh said he was compelled to run after McBath “sat by” while Major League Baseball yanked its All-Star game from Truist Park in protest of the state’s new election law. She and other Democrats were critical of the overhaul, which imposed new restrictions on voting.
He also blasted McBath as a “single-issue partisan hack,” referring to her support for firearm restrictions after her teenage son was shot to death in 2012.
“At the end of the day, it’s tragic what happened to Lucy McBath’s son,” Welsh said. “But to go there to Washington and represent but what one view, and not strongly support the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms, is unfortunate.”
He’s joining an unsettled race. Since potential candidates still don’t know what the district boundaries will be, and the maps won’t be redrawn until the end of the year, many of the biggest names are still on the sidelines. They include state Sen. Brandon Beach, Georgia ethics commission chair Jake Evans and former state Rep. Meagan Hanson.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath (with megaphone) first won the 6th Congressional District in 2018, when she beat U.S. Rep. Karen Handel. McBath won reelection last year in a rematch with Handel. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Welsh said he’s unfazed by the uncertainty surrounding the contest.
“I don’t know how it will fall out. But I know I’m the right candidate no matter how it ends up,” he said. “Establishment Republicans don’t know who I am, and that’s fine. Because they will know who I am by the end of this.”
On why he’s running:
“I’ve always been the person who enjoys politics. We need some certainty to take away the complexity in Congress. I’m tough and tested and trusted. I’ll work to get a level of accountability and solutions to the constituents in the district.”
On his approach to national security:
“I would start with security and the borders. I liken it to a bathtub that’s overflowing. You’ve got to turn the faucet off before you grab the mop. With China, we’ve got to get out there and take a hard-line stance on what they’re doing in tech and corporate espionage and make sure we do more to support American workers and those who would take advantage of our companies.”
On the decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan:
“I don’t think we should fight wars in perpetuity. We got to a point where they need to be able to defend themselves. I believe we need a forward-positioned platform — reaction force — in the region to quickly respond to a crisis without a permanent presence in Afghanistan.”
On whether he believes Joe Biden won the election:
“Joe Biden won the election. We have a president right now that went through the democratic process and won. And now we have a law that’s giving us a level of certainty and confidence in terms of voting. So let’s move on.”
On Biden’s $2.3 trillion in proposed spending for infrastructure and other packages:
“When you start peeling it back, it’s not an infrastructure bill. It’s a spending spree of pork-barrel stuff. We all agree we need infrastructure improvements in the right places and the right communities. And we have to invest in the people that would be doing that. But come on, $2 trillion is a crazy number.”
About the Author
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.