Runoff rivals in deep-red west Georgia vow not to be the next Greene

‘My goal is to get stuff done,’ says one contender for the US House seat. ‘My goal is not to go up and be a TV star.’
Former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, left, is running against Brian Jack, a longtime aide to Donald Trump, in Tuesday's runoff for the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.

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Former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, left, is running against Brian Jack, a longtime aide to Donald Trump, in Tuesday's runoff for the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.

CONCORD — About 400 people live along this crossroads in Pike County established long ago as a stagecoach stop. And it seemed like half of them piled into Concord’s converted general store this week.

To listen to the mayor, the parade of Donald Trump loyalists that took turns at the mic that night amounted to the biggest political event in Concord’s history. That’s nothing to sniff at, he said, given that Jimmy Carter visited back in 1976 — and hardly attracted a dozen fans.

On this steamy eve, U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and U.S. Rep. Mike Collins took turns riling up the crowd. U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah let people try on his supersized Super Bowl ring from the Oakland Raiders’ 1980 championship team.

But the main attraction was Brian Jack, a longtime Trump aide running with the former president’s endorsement in next week’s runoff against former state Sen. Mike Dugan. The victor is all but certain to represent an open west Georgia district in Congress.

And while Jack’s policies were hard-line MAGA, his messaging was not. He spoke in matter-of-fact tones as he promised to back Trump’s agenda, “defund” prosecutors targeting the former president and support mass deportations of people in the U.S. illegally. But he did so without the bomb throwing bombast of other MAGA warriors.

After the crowd of roughly 200 melted away, Jack summed up his approach.

“Over the last eight years, people didn’t see my name in the headlines, and that’s the exact same type of congressman you’re going to get going forward,” Jack said in an interview. “Actions speak louder than words.”

Dugan voiced the same sentiment a night before, when he was asked at the Atlanta Press Club debate whether U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attention-seeking style appealed to him. He, too, said he would rather be a workhorse than a troublemaker in Washington.

“It’s pretty obvious,” Dugan said during the first and only televised showdown against Jack this runoff campaign. “My goal is to get stuff done. My goal is not to go up and be a TV star.”

Jack seconded him, saying he and Dugan are “certainly in alignment.”

“I talk a lot about working with President Trump over the last eight years, but you rarely saw my name in the headlines because I put my head down to do the job of the American people.”

‘Get things done’

It was no given that the two rivals would take a far different path than Greene, who represents the district just to the north.

The newly reconfigured 3rd District, which stretches from Atlanta’s southwestern suburbs to the Alabama state line, voted almost as heavily for Trump in 2020 as Greene’s northwest Georgia territory.

But during interviews with voters at rallies throughout the district, many said they back lawmakers who make more policies than headlines.

“We just want someone who will do what they say,” said George Uhrin of Peachtree City, who is backing Jack in the runoff. “Someone who wants to get things done — not just land in the news.”

Dugan’s supporters say much the same. State Rep. Karen Mathiak, a chiropractor who represents a slice of the congressional district in the Georgia House, said she’s convinced that voters are exhausted by political theatrics.

“We’ve seen this constant division within the Republican Party, and it takes pure leadership to pull it back together,” said Mathiak, who was first elected to a Griffin-based district in the Georgia House in 2016. “Mike grew up here and he knows what this community needs because he’s a part of it.”

A polite push

The policy-heavy approach to the race might be a reason the runoff has been tame by recent Georgia standards, with little in the way of bareknuckle politics.

Backed by Trump and reinforced by a tide donations thanks to his connections in Washington, Jack was the front-runner before he entered the contest.

He campaigned like one throughout the primary, hardly saying a bad word about his four rivals en route to a first-place finish. But he fell just short of an outright victory.

With an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, Brian Jack, center, was the front-runner for the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional District even before he entered the contest. Several of Trump's allies have come to west Georgia to help campaign for Jack, who has drawn most of his contributions from outside Georgia's borders. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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That was mainly because of the showing by Dugan, once one of the top Republicans in the state Senate who won almost 25% of the vote by highlighting his work shepherding conservative proposals through a fractious General Assembly.

(The third-place and fourth-place finishers in the race have each since endorsed Jack.)

The race might still be best described as polite — Dugan apologetically said “no offense” to preface a light jab during Sunday’s televised debate — but it’s getting a bit more pointed as the runoff nears.

While Jack leans into his Washington connections — and above all, his Trump endorsement — Dugan is betting it could come back to haunt him. He brands his rival a “D.C. insider” and reminds voters that Jack collected most of his donations from beyond Georgia’s borders.

Jack has swung back by criticizing Dugan for backing a Republican-sponsored 2015 transportation measure that he said amounted to the largest tax increase in state history.

The victor in Tuesday’s runoff is favored to win the deep-red seat in November against Democrat Maura Keller and, barring a political collapse, will be secure in a safe GOP seat the rest of the decade.

It could also be a launchpad for higher office for Jack, a 36-year-old who plunged into politics after repeated knee injuries in high school dashed his dreams of being an elite college baseball player.

‘Fight nobly’

On the campaign trail Jack makes no mention of any higher ambitions. His signs, stickers and flyers are plastered with bold lettering reminding voters that he’s “TRUMP ENDORSED,” and he links himself with the former president’s agenda.

Jack first joined Trump’s camp in 2016, when he built out an extensive ground operation ensuring he had enough delegates to secure the nomination.

He later was tapped as director of Trump’s Office of Political Affairs, part of a small group of aides who staffed the then-president from the campaign trail until his final day in the White House. He rejoined Trump’s staff for his comeback bid.

Jack prefers to speak less about a similar job he took with former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — anathema to some in MAGA world — sandwiched in between his Trump stints.

Though Trump isn’t expected to make a pre-runoff visit for Jack, plenty of his allies are lending a hand. Hundreds came to events on Monday featuring Owens and Jordan. On Thursday, former presidential candidate Ben Carson — who also counted Jack as a key aide — will headline events urging voters to elect the Trump loyalist.

Dugan isn’t attracting the same sort of GOP star power, but his campaign hopes it plays to his favor. He said voters would rather focus on his “Georgia values” and his track record in public office than the major Trump-aligned figures backing Jack.

One ally quipped that instead of drawing the MAGA elite to Georgia, Dugan boasts of a cast of local characters: A few dozen state legislators, eight sheriffs and a former state agriculture commissioner.

That would be Gary Black, who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2022 and sees Dugan as someone who can bring the “sprit of true public service” to Washington.

“We need to get back to good relational politics with representatives who listen to voters and don’t go up there to start fires,” Black said. “There’s so much work to be done. True service doesn’t always involve a public speech or a press conference. There’s a way to fight nobly.”

Former state Sen. Mike Dugan isn't bringing in national figures like those campaigning for his opponent in Tuesday's runoff, Brian Jack. But he does have the support of a few dozen state legislators, eight sheriffs and a former state agriculture commissioner. (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

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