The race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Tom Graves for a congressional seat representing Northwest Georgia looked headed for a runoff late Tuesday night, as results in the state’s coronavirus-stricken primary indicated none of the Republican candidates would claim enough votes to win outright.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a construction company owner, held a lead in the primary over John Cowan, a neurosurgeon who owns a toy shop. As vote counts trickled in late Tuesday, it appeared she would not collect enough votes in the primary to avoid a runoff scheduled for Aug. 11.
In all, nine Republican candidates signed up for the bid to replace Graves, a Republican, who announced late last year that he would not seek re-election. He has held the 14th District seat since first winning election in 2010.
The reliably Republican district stretches from Paulding and Haralson counties north through Rome, Calhoun and Dalton to the Tennessee line.
Little daylight has come between the staunchly conservative candidates in terms of policy points. Eight of them participated in last month’s Atlanta Press Club primary debate in which they alternated between praise for President Donald Trump, disdain for congressional Democrats and a handful of jabs at each other.
At last month’s debate, Greene stressed that her staunchly conservative values align with many of the district’s voters and touted endorsements from influential members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
“I’m 100% pro-life, 100% pro-gun, and I’m the strongest supporter of President Trump and always have been,” Greene said.
She also faced criticism for deciding to back out of the 6th Congressional District race earlier this year and enter the 14th District contest. John Barge, a former Georgia state school superintendent who ran in the primary, labeled Greene an “opportunist”.
Cowan was criticized by some candidates during the debate for buying products made in China and not in Northwest Georgia for his toy shop. He defended his business practices, saying he has experience negotiating with Chinese manufacturers.
“I’ve been tougher on China than anyone on this panel because I’ve actually engaged them,” Cowan said.
Cowan also said last month he favors moves to reopen local economies emerging from the coronavirus pandemic amid his background in the medical field and that there needs to be a balance between science and economic needs.
The race has also drawn one Democratic candidate, Kevin Van Ausdal, an implementation specialist. He has slightly more than $1,000 on hand to vie for the Republican stronghold seat.
On the Republican side, the race to replace Graves has drawn several deep-pocketed contenders able to prop up their campaigns with personal loans. Of the roughly $3.5 million raised in total by Republican candidates through May 20, nearly half came in the form of loans.
Greene propped up her campaign financing with a $700,000 personal loan that contributed greatly to the more than $1 million she spent through late May. She has roughly $170,000 on hand for the runoff.
Cowan also floated his campaign a $100,000 loan to help boost his roughly $574,000 in spending. His campaign was aided by a late infusion of nearly $118,000 in contributions that have flowed in since May 21.
Tuesday’s primary was marked by long lines and wait times at some polling places in the state, particularly in Atlanta and Savannah. Elections officials attributed slow in-person voting to subpar training in the state’s new voting machines and safety measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Statewide, more than three-fourths of the roughly 1.2 million early votes ahead of the primary were cast by mail, marking a historic absentee effort as elections officials pressed for increased participation in vote-by-mail to help curb the spread of the virus.
Also running in the Republican primary were Barge, the former school superintendent; Clayton Fuller, a prosecutor and U.S. Air Force veteran; Bill Hembree, a former state House representative; state Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton; Matt Laughridge, a businessman; Ben Bullock, a real estate investor and U.S. Air Force veteran; and Andy Gunther, a retired U.S. Marine and businessman.