Sunday June 23rd, 2024 4:01PM
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A Republican operative is running for Congress in Georgia with Trump's blessing. Will it be enough?

By The Associated Press

NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) — Brian Jack came home to Georgia with former President Donald Trump's endorsement and a stack of Washington contacts. Now he just has to close the sale with GOP primary voters in the safely Republican 3rd Congressional District as he makes his first run for office.

On the stump, Jack emphasizes his close ties to Trump at every opportunity. He worked on his 2016 presidential campaign and served for four years as White House political director. Jack is the leading fundraiser, and his television ads thus far consist of Trump praising him. In one, there's a clip of an Atlanta appearance where Trump called Jack “a MAGA man.”

“I am so proud to not only have President Trump’s endorsement, but to have worked for him for the last eight years.” Jack said in an appearance in Columbus on April 23. “And I helped him build that ‘America First’ agenda. I helped him campaign for it in 2016. I helped him enact it over the four years I served by his side in the White House.”

Trump’s endorsement has proved powerful in Republican primaries nationwide. But the Trump nod hasn’t been a sure thing in Georgia. Six candidates that Trump endorsed for office in 2022 lost Republican primaries in the state, including former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who was routed in his challenge to incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.

His opponents shy away from attacking Trump, but note Jack's later work for then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to suggest the 36-year-old Peachtree City native is more a creature of Washington than of Georgia's 3rd Congressional District.

“The Congress is sent there to represent the people; it’s not sent there to represent a specific politician," Philip Singleton, a former state representative, said at an April 8 forum in Fayetteville. "And so you have to understand that my establishment opponent in this race, his credential is that he’s Trump’s guy and he’s been a political operative for 16 years. You don’t need people that are up there serving the political elite up in Washington.”

The 3rd District hugs the Alabama state line from Carrollton south to Columbus and hooks east into Atlanta's southern suburbs. It's been represented for four terms by Drew Ferguson, who's stepping down after failing to advance in House Republican leadership. Ferguson has been a steady conservative, but not a right-wing rabble-rouser.

Jack has four Republican opponents in the May 21 primary — former state Sens. Mike Crane and Mike Dugan, Republican activist Jim Bennett and Singleton, who is now a congressional chief of staff. Dugan points to his achievements as the former majority leader in the state Senate to suggest he can get things done, while the other three have staked out positions to Jack's right on issues including abortion.

The race thus far has been fairly polite, but a June 18 runoff, necessary if no one wins a majority, could bring more pointed attacks. The Republican nominee will face the winner of the Democratic primary, either Val Almonord or Maura Keller.

Many voters aren't paying attention to what’s likely to be a low-turnout election. Some who are tuned in, like Newnan resident Lisa Gunter, said Trump’s nod isn’t the only factor she’s considering.

“It weighs a little bit when it comes to what he says,” Gunter, a freelance paralegal, said of Trump’s support of Jack.

More important, Gunter said, is someone who will follow through on promises to bring change to Washington, saying “I’m so ready for house to be cleaned.”

“They all basically say the same thing,” Gunter said. “It’s just a matter of which one is going to go there and do what I want them to do.”

Candidates are trying to capitalize on discontent among Republican primary voters in different ways. Dugan, who's cutting a slightly more moderate path, argues he can bring people together, noting that while he was majority leader the state Senate cut taxes, imposed sharp restrictions on abortion and shortened the period to request an absentee ballot and limited ballot drop boxes.

Singleton, who Republican leaders redistricted out of the state House after he proved a thorn in their sides, promises that he's willing to fight to balance the budget and to not compromise conservative principles. Singleton said that if legislation subtracts from how he sees freedom and liberty, "then I’m there to stand in opposition to those things and push back.”

Crane has been appealing to religious conservatives, underlining his longtime opposition to abortion and arguing political reform can only flow from a moral rebirth.

“The Lord called me to Washington, but not me. He called you. He called us. He called himself to Washington," Crane told the audience in Fayetteville on April 8. "Washington gets fixed not only when we drain the swamp, but when we fill it up with righteousness.”

Bennett has been in the race the longest, saying he was motivated to run because of his unhappiness with Ferguson. He's the least well-funded, raising only $38,000 through March 31. Jack has raised the most, at $623,000, with big contributions from political committees controlled by McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Crane has raised $505,000, while Dugan raised $268,000 and Singleton raised $143,000.

But Jack entered the race late, and it's not clear if his financial advantage is big enough to outright win the May 21 primary. The other candidates are betting not, positioning for a runoff.

“I don’t have to convince people to not vote for Brian Jack," Singleton said. “Nobody knows who Brian Jack is."

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