Today’s Courier Herald Column:
In the race for Georgia’s “new” 9th Congressional district, I won’t be making an endorsement. Two years ago I backed Tom Graves as the “outsider” that would best represent the views of his constituents. Courtesy of redistricting, Graves now represents GA-14, and we have an open, very Republican seat to fill anchored in Hall County. The truth is I like both of the major candidates. Each brings something very different to the table. And as I can’t vote for either, I’m comfortable with just saying I’m comfortable with either.
Doug Collins is the “insider” in the race, and on paper he’s the one I’m not supposed to like. I have generally found myself on opposite sides of Governor Deal and Lieutenant Governor Cagle who have been assumed by many to be quietly supporting Collins. Officially, they remain neutral. I didn’t know much about Collins prior to this race. Our initial meeting was quite substantive, and Collins answered questions directly. Regarding his ability to be independent, he cited a vote against a DOT board member that not only was the pick of the former House Speaker, but was also a member of his own Sunday School class.
“It was what my constituents wanted” he told me. It cost him his office in the capitol and the favor of the Speaker, but he insisted it was the right thing to do. It’s a very similar story that originally solidified my support behind Graves. I believe Collins will be his own man if sent to Washington.
Zoller, a fellow resident of Hall County along with Collins, Deal, and Cagle, is the “outsider” in the race. As a talk radio personality, she has name ID on par with many of the elected officials however. I’ve been an occasional guest on Zoller’s program, of which she’s currently on hiatus pending the results of the campaign. Zoller plans on continuing her outsider’s message in D.C. rather than returning to the radio. The voters will have the final word on that next Tuesday. Or it may not quite be final.
There’s a third candidate, retired educator Roger Fitzpatrick, who is also in the mix. He’s running to the hard right of both other candidates, neither of which are exactly presenting themselves as leftists. In the 9th district, especially in the NE corner of the district, you can’t be too far to the right. As such, Fitzpatrick may pull the two presumed front runners into a runoff.
Collins and Zoller do offer a bit of a contrast between the flavor of Republican that will represent Georgia 9. As the “outsider” Zoller does not have the institutional endorsements that Collins brings to the table. In addition to the Governor and Lt. Governor, Collins has the support of House Speaker David Ralston and former Governor and Senator Zell Miller. Both are also potential constituents.
Zoller has rejected the value of these endorsements, yet brings a slate of endorsements of her own. Sarah Palin added her name to a long list of media personalities backing her candidacy, including former Presidential candidate Herman Cain, Cain’s fellow WSB radio personality Erick Erickson, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity.
It remains to be seen which endorsements mean more. Collins’ high profile endorsers are largely from GA 9, and are part of a large and established political network in the area. Zoller’s endorsements saturate conservative broadcast media, and thus carry widespread name recognition among the base Republican voters that vote in July primaries.
Collins campaign staff may represent the advantage here. Chip Lake, as general consultant, previously ran initial campaigns for Lynn Westmoreland and Phil Gingrey. Political Director Justin Tomczak is a veteran of Graves’ 2010 campaigns. And Bryan Millar, grandson of the former Governor, is campaign manager. They bring a mix of experience and grass root connections from the district.
Zoller’s grass roots ties seem to be from various conservative groups, many again are led by people outside the district. Yet names like the TEA Party Express and Freedom works are well known within the base. We should know next Tuesday if they’re connected to get out the vote efforts.