ATLANTA (AP) — Nine Republicans are jockeying to succeed U.S. Rep Tom Graves in northwest Georgia's 14th congressional district, after Graves announced in December he would step down.
The field might seem like it would be headlined by former state schools Superintendent John Barge, state Rep. Kevin Cooke and former state Rep. Bill Hembree. But neurosurgeon John Cowan and businessperson Marjorie Taylor Greene have led fundraising.
Also running are car dealer Matt Laughridge, Army veteran and Republican Party official Andy Gunther, former assistant district attorney and Air Force veteran Clayton Fuller, and business owner and Air Force veteran Ben Bullock.
A runoff, if no one wins a majority, would be held between the top two Republican finishers on Aug. 11. The Republican nominee will be a heavy favorite in the general election against Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal.
The district covers all or part of 12 counties in northwest Georgia, stretching from the edge of the Atlanta suburbs through Rome and Dalton to the Georgia suburbs of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
One issue in the race is newcomers to the district. Greene was running in the suburban Atlanta 6th District, while Bullock was running in suburban Atlanta 7th District, both switching to the 14th after Graves said he wouldn't run again. Cooke moved from Carroll County to Haralson County. Hembree has lived in Douglas County, while Laughridge has lived in Bartow County.
“I live in the district,” Cowan said.
Cowan's geographic problem has been China. He was attacked in an Atlanta Press Club debate in early May over a toy company that he owns importing toys from China. The Asian nation has become a target for many Republicans who blame its leaders for covering up the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re doing business with China and you’re getting rich off of China,” Hembree said in the debate.
Cowan argues that his experience with China makes him the most qualified to lead a get-tough policing, telling The Associated Press that “we're going to need to put a fist into China.”
The neurosurgeon also pushes his healthcare expertise, saying he wants to privatize Medicare and undo strictures from President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul to allow companies to offer different kinds of insurance. He says he favors keeping the bar on excluding people for pre-existing conditions.
Greene, who declined a request for a telephone interview, said in a statement that she favors “ending abortion completely” and argues that she is the strongest supporter of President Donald Trump in the race.
“I believe more than anything, we have to save America and stop socialism,” she said in the debate.
Greene has been criticized for taking a picture with members of American Patriots USA at a February pro-gun rally. The group includes members with a history of white supremacy.
“I can’t run background checks on everyone who walks up to me and asks for a picture,” Greene said in her statement.
Others are also portraying themselves as the most pro-Trump candidate. Hembree said he campaigned for the president in 2016 and is running on an anti-immigration platform. He says he wants to stop granting citizenship to children of immigrants born in the United States and stop allowing legal immigrants to help bring their relatives to the country.
“They're taking advantage of our freedoms,” Hembree said.
He claims Democrats support immigration because they're trying to build an immigrant voting bloc by promising them benefits, even though immigrants who aren't permanent residents are typically ineligible for many programs.
Cooke, who has been one of a small group of Republican rebels opposing state House Speaker David Ralston, is running on a platform of limiting the federal government's powers, saying he wants to make “the federal government as inconsequential in our day-to-day lives as possible” and "see the balance of power shifted back to the state and local level.”
That strict constitutionalist approach extends even to presidential war powers, with Cooke saying he wants to make sure Congress always has a voice in when the president uses force abroad.
Barge touts his experience as the state's elected superintendent of schools, saying he proved that he could get things done when he was one of the first state education leaders to get a waiver from a federal education law from President Barack Obama's administration. Like most Republican candidates, he says he wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and give all its powers back to the states, although he wants federal money to keep flowing. Barge contrasts his approach to the hard-edged rhetoric of some other candidates.
“Are they offering solutions, or are they just ranting?” he asked.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.