Georgia voters weigh QAnon candidate in top runoff race

Marjorie Greene, of Milton, and candidate for congress in the sixth district, participates in a "Stop Impeachment Now" rally outside the office of Rep. Lucy McBath on Wednesday, October 9, 2019, in Sandy Springs. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Marjorie Greene, of Milton, and candidate for congress in the sixth district, participates in a "Stop Impeachment Now" rally outside the office of Rep. Lucy McBath on Wednesday, October 9, 2019, in Sandy Springs. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Elijah Nouvelage

Credit: Elijah Nouvelage

U.S. House races, local contests on the ballot

Two congressional runoffs featuring anti-establishment Republicans. A referendum on Fulton County’s long-serving top prosecutor. And dozens of local races for county posts shaped by the pandemic and protests for social justice.

While there are no statewide elections on Tuesday’s runoff ballot, Georgia voters will decide a host of other closely watched contests headlined by twin contests for neighboring deeply-conservative U.S. House districts.

Marjorie Taylor Greene supports the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory and has posted racist and xenophobic videos. Matt Gurtler is a pariah among many fellow state legislators for his frequent “no” votes in the General Assembly.

And yet the two are seen as the front-runners in Tuesday’s runoffs for adjoining north Georgia congressional districts so conservative that the candidates are wielding the staunch opposition of Republican establishment leaders as a badge of honor.

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)

The races for the two open U.S. House seats test both the might of Republican powers that have endorsed their rivals and the direction of a Georgia GOP that has struggled to make inroads with more moderate voters.

Georgia Democrats are particularly eager to tie Greene’s history of hateful statements to other Republicans who have disavowed them, including former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel and Rich McCormick, who are competing in the November general election for more centrist-friendly suburban districts.

Greene finished first in the jumbled June primary to represent the 14th Congressional District, a stretch of northwest Georgia that Republicans easily carried for years.

She’s unapologetic about a string of controversial comments, such as insinuating that the 2017 Las Vegas massacre was a plot to do away with the Second Amendment and last week defending a lie that George Soros helped send fellow Jews to death chambers during the Holocaust.

Republican members of the U.S. House have denounced her comments as “disgusting,” “offensive” and “bigoted,” and a string of congressional leaders and other Georgia GOP officials have vocally opposed her candidacy.

Her opponent is Dr. John Cowan, a Rome neurosurgeon who casts himself as the more palatable conservative alternative to Greene. He, too, touts his support for President Donald Trump, gun rights and abortion restrictions.

He also reminds voters of his deep ties to the district – as opposed to Greene, who moved to Rome months ago to run for the seat.

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In the neighboring 9th District, Gurtler hasn’t triggered the same stampede of GOP opposition as Greene, but he’s reviled by House Speaker David Ralston and other Republican leaders because of his opposition to the party’s agenda.

And yet he’s also buoyed by the backing of the anti-tax Club for Growth, which helped him emerge as the leading vote-getter in the June primary. He has embraced the opposition from the Georgia GOP powers, and frames himself as a small-government conservative willing to stand up to special interests.

He faces Andrew Clyde, the owner of an Athens gun store who is best known for pioneering a law that limits an Internal Revenue Service practice of flagging and freezing bank accounts after the agency seized nearly $1 million from him in 2013.

Two Democrats are also competing in that race: Brooke Siskin, an activist, and Devin Pandy, a military veteran. In another Republican-leaning district, voters will decide whether Joyce Marie Griggs or Lisa Ring will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler.

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 17, 2020, file photo, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks at a news conference, in Atlanta. Howard has run unopposed for two decades. But he came in second in the June Democratic primary and faces a tough runoff election Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 17, 2020, file photo, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks at a news conference, in Atlanta. Howard has run unopposed for two decades. But he came in second in the June Democratic primary and faces a tough runoff election Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Down the ballot, the most prominent race involves the fate of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

The six-term incumbent faces accusations of ethics and financial lapses, as well as sexual misconduct claims that Howard denies. His opponent Fani Willis, a former Howard deputy who finished ahead of him in the primary, presents herself as a more principled prosecutor.

DeKalb voters will decide whether incumbent Sheriff Melody Maddox or Ruth “The Truth” Stringer, a retired sheriff’s office major, will fill out the rest of former Sheriff Jeffrey Mann’s unexpired term.

Cobb County has five runoff races on the ballot, including two to decide replacements for current commissioners. And voters in Clayton, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry counties will choose nominees for a sweep of commission, judicial and law enforcement posts.

Of the 17 state legislative runoffs on the ballot, only two involve incumbents: Veteran Democratic state Reps. Michele Henson and Sharon Beasley-Teague each face challenges to keep their seats.

And in a special election, Scott Bohlke of Brooklet and Billy Hickman of Statesboro are vying for the GOP nomination to succeed state Sen. Jack Hill, a Reidsville Republican who died in March.

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