The Jolt: The north Georgia congressional race that just disappeared

200829-Rome-Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican running to represent Georgia’s 14th congressional district, talks with supporters Saturday morning August 29, 2020 at a political rally at the Rome fairgrounds. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Friday afternoon exposed a flurry of activity in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District - and made it even more certain that QAnon theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene will be headed to Washington in January.

First, we learned that her Democratic opponent, Kevin Van Ausdal, had abruptly ended his campaign and planned to move out-of-state. Van Ausdal was a long shot, even by his own internal polling, but members of his party had hoped he would at least force Republicans over the next few months to respond to Greene’s controversies and antics.

One of your Insiders ultimately got more of the story: Van Ausdal was hit with divorce papers, was told he needed to move out of his Northwest Georgia home and made the decision to move in with his parents in Indiana.

His political advisers made it clear that he can’t run a campaign in Georgia if he no longer lives in the state. So he bowed out, hoping the state party could appoint someone to run against Greene in his place.

We aren’t so sure if that will happen. The Secretary of State’s office indicated it’s too close to the general election to make any changes. But this may be something for the courts to decide.

Van Ausdal’s staff released a statement Friday that said they are committed to working with the Democratic Party of Georgia to find a replacement and keep up the campaign against Greene.

Meanwhile, later Friday U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, the incumbent in the 14th, announced that he will step down about three months before his term ends.

Graves' staff said the announcement falling on the same day as Van Ausdal’s was purely coincidental and that he had already spent days informing family, friends and colleagues of his decision.

Graves plans' for the coming weeks is to push through a final list of recommendations from the Modernization Committee he heads up. After that, he didn’t see much reason to stick around, what with Congress planning long breaks around the November election and the holidays.

Still, there is work that Congress still has on the table that could require crucial votes, such as funding the government through the end of the year and coronavirus stimulus. It’s too early to tell if that will happen before Graves' departs or if he is jumping ship before crunch time.

It’s not yet clear whether there will be a special election to fill the remainder of Graves' term, though Gov. Brian Kemp’s office indicated he intends to issue a writ within 10 days that could set up a vote.

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U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, was among the first to welcome Marjorie Taylor Greene to the U.S. House after Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal’s withdrawal.

“Congratulations to Georgia’s new Congresswoman @mtgreenee!”, he wrote on Twitter.

That led to some raised eyebrows, since Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Greene in the past had spread false conspiracy theories about those events -- specifically that there was no evidence that a hijacked jetliner had struck the Penatagon. (She later admitted that her claim was incorrect.)

“Republican congressman congratulates a 9/11 Truther on 9/11,” Aaron Rupar of vox.com wrote.

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A pro-David Perdue flyer from 50 States Action Fund/Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

We’ve told you of the efforts by many Georgia Republicans with stiff November opposition fueled by anti-Trump sentiment to shift to the middle. We’ve got another pair of examples for you:

For instance, the above flyer was sent to a female voter in Cobb County by the 50 States Action Fund, a GOP political action committee. Clearly, it’s meant to assure the recipient that U.S. Sen. David Perdue, unlike President Trump believes in masks. The headline, “Leadership to guide our nation through the pandemic,” also echoes Perdue’s embrace of a topic that Trump minimizes on the stump.

Then there’s state Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, who faces “Mokah” Jasmine Johnson, a Democrat, on Nov. 3. Gaines' written message in a recent Tweet: “I know our community has the character to rebuild - not through division, but through reform, together.”

Attached was a video in which Gaines says nearly the same thing. The extra word is telling: “Not through lawlessness or division,” he says in the recording. (Emphasis ours.)

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In a somewhat unusual pairing, Chuck Eaton, the Republican chairman of the state Public Service Commission, and Mark Templeton, the president of Georgia Building Trades, have an op-ed in the Augusta Chronicle, touting continued progress on the two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle despite COVID-19.

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Over at Georgia Health News, Andy Miller reports that Georgia has slipped from No. 42 to No. 46 in a state-by-state ranking of health care by the 2020 Commonwealth Fund.

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Our AJC colleague Matt Kempner has taken note of some corporate activity in the run-up to the Nov. 3 general election. The gist:

Thousands of metro Atlantans who work for Coca-Cola or Mailchimp will get new paid holidays on Nov. 3, election day. Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, just added up to six hours of paid time off a year for its full-time employees to vote. Entities from Delta Air Lines to Home Depot and the Metro Atlanta Chamber are encouraging employees to volunteer as poll workers.

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This morning, both Republican Doug Collins and Georgia Democrats are pointing to a Salon.com piece that begins thusly:

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the appointed Georgia Republican who faces a tough election race this fall, helped her company establish a Cayman Islands offshore tax dodge months after the Great Recession hit. This allowed some of the world’s biggest banks to avoid paying U.S. taxes on their risky Wall Street bets — including on the financial instruments that were key contributors to the global economic collapse.

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Loeffler’s campaign pointed toward this paragraph:

An ICE spokesperson denied the clearinghouse was helping companies get around taxes, telling Salon in an email that “With regard to ICE Clear Credit, there has been no avoidance of U.S. taxation whatsoever, and any assertion otherwise is simply false.”

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The Trump-appointed spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services interfered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly COVID-19 reports in ways that may have watered down the message and made the public health outlook appear rosier than reality, Politico reported over the weekend.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department officials, and have been viewed as a cornerstone of the nation’s public health work for decades.

But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the Health and Human Services department’s new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump’s statements, including the president’s claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.

Caputo and his team have attempted to add caveats to the CDC’s findings, including an effort to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of Covid-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their own behavior, according to the individuals familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by POLITICO.

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The presidential campaign is returning to Georgia this week - sort of.

Jill Biden, the wife of the presidential nominee, will hold a virtual gathering focused on Georgia veterans and their families on Monday afternoon. Among the speakers are state Rep. Calvin Smyre, who is slated to deliver the introduction, and state Rep. Scott Holcomb, who is in charge of the closing.

Then on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s son Eric will host an event in Cumming dubbed “Evangelicals for Trump: Praise, Prayer, and Patriotism” with Paula White -- the president’s advisor on evangelical issues.

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Joe Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee are beefing up the website to help Georgia voters more easily request mail-in ballots.

The IWillVote.com website previously allowed users to check or update their registration and find voting locations.

Now it will offer state and county-specific options such as how to request a ballot online; how to print a mail-in form; and how to request a prepaid return envelope.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office noted, with a certain relish, that the links went to a Georgia website created by the Republican when he was the state’s top elections official:

“Fun fact: For GA voters, this website being promoted by Dems directly connects to the online voter registration system and My Voter Page created by then-SOS, Republican @GovKemp," wrote Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce.

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We already gave you the heads up about a documentary that details how rock and roll impacted President Jimmy Carter’s administration, but here is a fun tidbit involving Willie Nelson that we found in a review in the L.A. Times:

Asked about Nelson’s account of smoking marijuana on the roof of the White House at the tail end of Carter’s term in 1980, the former president lets out a chuckle.

Nelson, Carter explains in the film, “says that his companion that shared the pot with him was one of the servants at the White House. That is not exactly true. It actually was one of my sons.”

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