A tame race for Georgia’s 3rd gets a bit nastier as runoff nears

Mike Dugan and Brian Jack

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Mike Dugan and Brian Jack

Former state Sen. Mike Dugan branded his opponent for a west Georgia-based U.S. House seat a “D.C. insider” soaking up out-of-state money. Brian Jack countered that Dugan compromised conservative values by backing a 2015 transportation tax bill.

Those were among the sharpest clashes in an otherwise tame Atlanta Press Club debate on Sunday between the two rivals for the 3rd Congressional District seat in their final face-to-face showdown ahead of the June 18 runoff.

And while it was a more pointed back-and-forth than their last debate a few weeks ago, when they were among five contenders in a primary, the two still found more consensus than conflict throughout the 30-minute debate.

The two hold similar views on key issues, ranging from tax policy to immigration. They both support former President Donald Trump. And they both pledge not to model themselves after U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and other far-right firebrands.

That meant they had to look to other factors to showcase a divide ahead of the runoff, which is expected to bring extremely low turnout.

Dugan, a former Georgia GOP Senate leader who finished a distant second to Jack in the primary, contrasted his mostly in-state contributions with the Jack’s donor list that mostly comes from outside of Georgia.

And he tried to temper Jack’s experience as a former aide to Trump by reminding voters he also worked for former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a controversial figure in MAGA circles.

Jack countered by framing his record with McCarthy as part of an overall mission to “fire Nancy Pelosi,” the long-serving Democratic House leader pushed out in a Republican takeover of the chamber.

FILE - Brian Jack speaks at the Congressional District 3 Republican debate during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series, April 28, 2024, in Atlanta. Jack and former state Sen. Mike Dugan are competing for the GOP nomination in Georgia's 3rd Congressional District in a Tuesday, June 18, 2024, runoff. (AP Photo/Jason Allen, File)

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And he swiped at Dugan’s support for a Republican-backed measure in that raised nearly $1 billion for road improvements by hiking some gas fees and charging a new $5 nightly hotel tax.

Jack called it the “largest tax increase in the history of Georgia” and said he will work with Trump to “cut taxes and ensure we have prosperity going forward.”

While some anti-tax activists derided the package as a punitive increase on hotel fees, the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation said found it no evidence it led to higher gas taxes.

‘Not how I operate’

Though the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson is the most competitive congressional contest in Georgia this campaign, it hasn’t attracted outsized attention.

Turnout was low in the primary and many of the state’s top Republicans are staying out of the race. And it’s not likely that Trump will hold an in-person rally before the June 18 vote, as some Jack supporters once hoped.

Still, the contest is a test of his brand in a deep-red district that stretches form Atlanta’s western suburbs to the Alabama state line. The former president has taped several messages for Jack, and some of his allies are crisscrossing the district this week.

Throughout the campaign, Jack has relentlessly linked himself to Trump’s agenda, telling voters to recall “how successful they were” when Trump was in the White House. The former president’s blessing, amplified by Jack’s fundraising edge, helped the candidate finish atop the first round of voting.

FILE - Mike Dugan speaks at the Congressional District 3 Republican debate during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series, April 28, 2024, in Atlanta. Dugan and former President Donald Trump political director Brian Jack are competing for the GOP nomination in Georgia's 3rd Congressional District in a Tuesday, June 18, 2024, runoff. (AP Photo/Jason Allen, File)

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Credit: AP

Dugan, meanwhile, has leaned into his record as one of the state Senate’s top Republicans, highlighting his role supporting GOP-backed measures that included an overhaul of voting rules, new abortion limits and an expansion of gun rights.

But their similarities have also factored heavily in the race. One of the most telling exchanges took place when a debate panelist asked whether either wanted to emulate the attention-seeking ways of Greene or other Georgia figures.

“My goal is to get stuff done. My goal is not to go up and be a TV star,” said Dugan.

“it’s important that we get people that put their heads down, go to work and actually achieve something for the people they’re representing. It’s OK to be loud, but that’s not how I operate.”

Jack said his background as a former Trump aide exemplified his philosophy.

“You rarely, if ever, saw my name in the headlines because I put my head down and worked,” said Jack. “I agree with the approach of putting my head down, trying to do what’s best for the people.”