Republicans line up for chance to flip Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District

File photo. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

caption arrowCaption
File photo. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District is the state’s only true toss-up seat, and Republicans are hoping to ride a conservative wave in the midterms and throw out longtime Democratic incumbent Sanford Bishop.

But first, there is a six-way primary to determine who the GOP nominee will be in the southwest Georgia district race. The candidates include longtime party activists, a former Trump administration official and a military veteran who quickly shot to the lead of the pack in fundraising.

With new boundaries that the Republican-led General Assembly drew in November, the district leans slightly to the Democratic Party and is about 49% Black. That means it is far from certain that a Republican will win the general election.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election projection website produced by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, recently downgraded the 2nd District from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democratic.” The change was partially because Crystal Ball determined that credible GOP candidates are raising enough money to be competitive in the fall.

“In a Republican wave scenario, these are the kinds of districts that could get swept up: places where (Joe) Biden won between 53%-55% of the vote that are clearly more Democratic than the nation as a whole, but not so much more Democratic that Republicans couldn’t win in a good environment,” the report says.

A central part of the messaging from candidate Chris West is that he gives the GOP the best chance in November. He is a Thomasville-based real estate developer and an officer with the Georgia Air National Guard.

“We looked and said, ‘OK, who’s the best Republican candidate to put forward to flip this seat?’ ” he said. “And I just became convinced that my resume stacks up best to be able to win, and that is evident in the kind of support that we’ve seen across the district.”

Other candidates are also laying claim to the title of most likely to beat the 15-term incumbent.

Wayne Johnson, who worked on the federal student loan program at the U.S. Department of Education during President Donald Trump’s administration, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2020. He said he decided to run for Congress after the 2nd District was drawn in a way that made the seat competitive for Republicans for the first time in decades.

“When you couple that desire for a substantive change with the redistricting thing, you have the ingredients for the first time in more than 100 years for it to actually go Republican,” said Johnson, who lives in Macon. ”But in order for it to succeed, it’s going to have to be focused first and foremost on conservative values.”

Also running in the GOP primary are party activist Vivian Childs, Rich Robertson and Paul Whitehead.

The sixth candidate is West Point graduate Jeremy Hunt. Hunt said his grandmother lived in South Georgia, so he grew up visiting family in the area and trained as a paratrooper at Fort Benning.

But Hunt’s entry into the race immediately drew controversy because until recently he was based in metro Atlanta. He registered to vote in Columbus in February just weeks after launching his campaign; prior to that he voted using an Alpharetta address.

Hunt has raised more money and has more cash on hand than any other candidate in the race besides Bishop, but less than 20% of his cash comes from inside the district.

He is endorsed by two sitting U.S. senators, Arkansas’ Tom Cotton and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and SEAL PAC, a political committee that works to get veterans elected. He also was endorsed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for nearly two decades and ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012.

Hunt said his focus is on making America better for young families such as his and people who believe Bishop is not serving their interests in Washington.

“The reason why we’re going to win this primary is because we stay on message,” he said. “We are about our three pillars: faith, family and community.”

Bishop also has a primary contender in Joe O’Hara, whose platform is conservative and appears unlikely to resonate with the party’s base.

Bishop, who is 75 and seeking a 16th term in office, knows the true test will be in November against whoever wins the GOP primary. The Democratic Party has added him to its list of “frontliners,” or vulnerable incumbents who will receive extra resources for their reelection campaigns.

The Albany Democrat said he has been here before, facing a more conservative electorate after redistricting, and he plans to win again. He said it all comes down to proving that he can continue to bring money, government programs and other resources to the district as the senior-most member of Georgia’s congressional delegation and one who holds powerful positions such as chairman of the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee.

“I believe that I am well suited and well prepared and experienced with the necessary tools, particularly legislative tools, to use the political process here to work for the people of the 2nd District of Georgia,” he said. “I’ve tried to position myself to be able to have a seat at the table to deliver.”


2nd Congressional District primaries

Under the new maps drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, the 2nd Congressional District is now Georgia’s only toss-up seat. And that poses a challenge for 15-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop.

Although he has an opponent in the Democratic primary in May, that is not expected to be much of a contest. The real test for Bishop will be in November against whoever wins the six-way Republican primary.

The district includes all or parts of 30 mostly rural counties in southwest Georgia. It still leans slightly Democratic under the new map.

Several well-funded and connected GOP candidates, however, are hoping to take advantage of shifts in public sentiment and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings to ride a Republican wave in the general election.

Bishop will face off against Joe O’Hara in the Democratic primary.

The Republican candidates are touting their conservative values in hopes of appealing to GOP voters in the primary. Those hoping for front-runner status — including real estate developer Chris West, former U.S. Department of Education official Wayne Johnson and military veteran Jeremy Hunt — are also positioning themselves as the best choice to defeat Bishop in November. Also running in the GOP primary are party activist Vivian Childs, Rich Robertson and Paul Whitehead.

Learn more about the candidates:

DEMOCRATS

Sanford Bishop (incumbent): https://sanfordbishop.com/

Joe O’Hara: http://oharaforcongress.com/

REPUBLICANS

Vivian Childs: https://vivianchilds.com/

Jeremy Hunt: https://jeremyforgeorgia.com/

Wayne Johnson: https://www.johnsoncongress.com/

Rich Robertson: https://richrobertsonforcongress.com/

Chris West: https://chriswestga.com/

Paul Whitehead: http://thatwhitehead.com/

About the Author

Editors' Picks