The Jolt: Never mind the pandemic -- Vernon Jones crowd-surfs a mask-deficient Trump crowd

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones crowd surfs during a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Shortly before Air Force One roared down a runway in Macon to deposit President Donald Trump among thousands of waiting supporters on Friday, another spectacle fired up the crowd.

It was state Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, who has recently become a fixture at Trump events, crowd-surfing in the middle of a pandemic without a mask as Trump supporters eagerly snapped pictures of the stunt.

The image of the former DeKalb County chief executive splayed out face down atop the outstretched arms of dozens of closely-packed Republicans was one of the odder moments in a Georgia political season that has been filled with them.

The Guardian said it was “arguably the most ill-advised and dangerous crowdsurf since the electro dance legend Steve Aoki broke a concertgoer’s neck in a dinghy.” On Saturday Night Live, host Colin Jost jested that Jones crowd-surfed “on the second wave of COVID.”

Social media reaction was equally harsh toward the 59-year-old, who has enjoyed growing local prominence as a top Black surrogate for Trump. Some called it a coronavirus “SuperSpreader” event at work. Another called him “Captain COVID.”

Many Republicans, meanwhile, took the moment as a sign of the enthusiasm generated by Trump’s campaign.

“Yes, I surfed that crowd!” Jones tweeted late Friday. “To the haters – stay mad! You’ll be even more mad come November 3rd!”

***

Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins kicked off his “Trump Defender” tour with a round of weekend stops, including a visit to Buckhead where he was joined by U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and former congresswoman Karen Handel.

Though he focused mostly on his own policies during the hourlong event, he opened by taking repeated shots at U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a warm-up to today’s debate.

“If I fought for everybody else, one person I’m not gonna leave out. I’m going to fight for myself,” he said, invoking the $35 million or so Loeffler and her allies have spent promoting her campaign and knocking his.

“I’m a conservative Republican. I want you to go out and make as much money as you want … But one of the things I’m not going to back up on - and I’m going to put it as easy as this -- you gonna tell a lie about me I’m going to tell the truth about you.”

He then spent time rebutting three separate lines of attack, including one that insists he’s too cozy with Stacey Abrams.

“She came over to the conservative side and she said I’m going to help. She actually helped vote for the HOPE scholarship bill,” said Collins, before noting the ties between Abrams and Loeffler.

“She actually honored her on the Atlanta Dream basketball court.”

Loeffler’s campaign, meanwhile, mocked the size of the crowd of about 70 people.

“Looks like a Biden rally to me,” her spokesman tweeted.

***

About that U.S. Senate debate today: Actually, there are two -- featuring 16 candidates in the contest for the seat currently held by Republican Kelly Loeffler. Lower-tier candidates will live streamed at 1 p.m. on GPB.org. The top tier follows at 3 p.m., again live streamed on GPB.org, then aired at 8 p.m. on GPB-TV and the Atlanta Press Club’s Facebook site.

Those top-tier candidates: Republicans Loeffler and Doug Collins; Democrats Matt Lieberman, Ed Tarver and Raphael Warnock; and Libertarian Brian Slowinski.

***

Already posted: Election workers can begin opening and scanning absentee ballots Monday under a new Georgia rule, according to our AJC colleague Mark Niesse. The rule, passed by the State Election Board in August, allows county election officials to start processing absentee ballots 15 days before Election Day.

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For the last several years, the American Bar Association has noted that women have outnumbered men in the nation’s law schools. Women still lag in representation on judicial benches, but Melita Easters, a longtime Democratic activist and booster of women candidates pointed out something we hadn’t noticed about the 2020 ballot.

Across the state, there are nine contested elections for district attorney. Every single one of them has a woman in the hunt, as incumbent or challenger – both Republican and Democrat.

That’s not counting Fani Willis' defeat of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard in the June 9 primary. Consider:

-- Alcovy: Randy McGinley, a Republican and assistant district attorney, faces Destiny Bryant, a Democratic attorney, for an open seat;

-- Augusta: Republican incumbent Natalie Paine faces Democratic attorney Jared T. Williams;

-- Brunswick: Republican incumbent Jackie Johnson is one of several coastal prosecutors criticized for actions taken – or not taken – in the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery this spring. She faces independent Keith Higgins. There is no Democrat in the contest.

-- Cobb: Republican incumbent Joyette Holmes, now in charge of prosecuting the Ahmaud Arbery case, faces Democrat Flynn Broady Jr.

-- Dublin: Republican incumbent Craig Fraser is matched against Democratic prosecutor Adriane Latrell Love.

-- Eastern (Savannah): Republican incumbent Meg Daly Heap is on the ballot with Democratic attorney Shalena Cook Jones.

-- Gwinnett: Republican incumbent Danny Porter faces Democratic attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson.

-- Houston: George Hartwig, the Republican incumbent, is being challenged by Erikka Williams, a Democratic attorney.

-- Western (Athens): Brian Patterson, a Democrat and the acting DA, is facing a number of challengers in this special election – including the woman who successfully fought in court against the Georgia law that would have given the appointment to Gov. Brian Kemp. That’s Deborah Gonzalez, the Democratic attorney and former state House member. Also in the race is James Chafin, an independent, and Republican Patrick Gartland.

***

We took a deeper look at those quarterly fundraising reports over the weekend, pointing out that while Democrats are boasting of record spending that much of the trackable money is coming from out-of-state. It’s an indication of the national prominence of some of Georgia’s most competitive races, but Republicans say it is also a sign that local enthusiasm may be more muted.

***

Over at Trouble in God’s County, Charlie Hayslett wrote several years ago that bringing the internet to rural Georgia would run in the neighborhood of $500 million.

He’s recalculated things – and now says the cost would run about $2.3 billion.

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CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday told the story of the “COVID flight from Hell,” a passenger flight that landed at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in March containing more than 200 former cruise ship passengers that had been exposed to the coronavirus.

The segment highlights the failures of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in testing, contact tracing and overall management of the early stages of the pandemic. We’ll pick up the story, via the show transcript, after the flight landed:

The three positive passengers were taken to a hotel. Everybody else went to a cargo building where they were checked by the CDC for fever and filled out a short questionnaire. Nobody was given a COVID test. And some passengers told us they saw people with symptoms get through.

Kelly Edge: There were people, get this, their temperature was too high, so the CDC had them sit in chairs and wait and see if it got lower.

Jenny Catron: So I’m trying really hard not to, like, second-guess. And I was so--

Sharyn Alfonsi: You’re thinking, “This is the CDC. They’ve got this.”

Jenny Catron: That’s what I’m trying to tell myself.

Sharyn Alfonsi: “And it’s in their hands now.”

Jenny Catron: I’m trying to tell myself that.

Sharyn Alfonsi: But your mind is saying what?

Jenny Catron: “You’re not doing it right.”

Passengers were then loaded onto buses for a short drive to baggage claim. And that was that. They were all free to go wherever they wanted.

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***

Kevin Van Ausdal was once the only man standing in between Marjorie Taylor Greene and a seat in Congress. Then he dropped out, actually abandoning the state. The Washington Post has a compelling narrative about the toll that the national attention brought both by his QAnon-theorist opponent his fellow Democrats had on Van Ausdal’s family life and mental health. A taste:

All of what politics had become in America was out of his comfort zone — the lack of substance, the conspiracies, and especially the anger, which he nonetheless realized was working. Donations were skyrocketing. Hollywood actors were following him. And the team’s internal polling was showing that he had momentum — every time Greene posted some new statement, she got more followers, and every time Kevin answered, more people rallied to his campaign, a dynamic of ever-escalating outrage.

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***

Let the speculation begin. How would a Joe Biden cabinet take shape if he wins the presidency and which Georgia Democrats are already in the conversation? Names floating around as potential picks to head the Justice Department, according to Axios: former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

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