Republican lawmakers and leaders rushed to distance themselves from Marjorie Greene after the House candidate’s history of racist and Islamophobic comments, on top of her belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory, emerged following the June primary.
That’s helped make a race out of her Aug. 11 runoff in Georgia’s 14th District against neurosurgeon John Cowan, who finished a distant second to Greene in the primary, for the seat held by the retiring Tom Graves (R). Darrell Galloway, the Georgia Republican Party’s district chairman, said he’s seen polling showing the two candidates “neck-and-neck.”
If Greene’s loyal supporters hand her a victory, “she really becomes an anchor around the neck of the party in the state and there could be significant repercussions in it,” said Brad Alexander, a Republican consultant who called her “a louder version of Steve King,” the Iowa Republican whose statements about race led party leaders to strip his committee assignments.
Greene was the clear winner of the June 9 primary, picking up more than 40% of the vote in a field of nine candidates. Cowan received 21%. The Republican nominee is almost guaranteed victory in November: the district is one of Georgia’s most Republican, with 75% of voters supporting President Donald Trump in 2016.
A week after the primary, videos surfaced of Greene comparing neo-Nazi groups who marched in Charlottesville, Va., to Black Lives Matter; saying she would be “proud” of Confederate statues if she were Black; and calling White males the most mistreated group of people. She blamed gangs for hurting Black and Hispanic men, saying the groups were “holding them back, it’s not White people.” She warned of an “Islamic invasion into our government offices” and said Muslims wanted to rise above other Americans.
Greene already had come under criticism for her ties to former Ku Klux Klan leader Chester Doles and her support of QAnon, a far-reaching internet conspiracy theory suggesting a “deep state” plot against Trump and his supporters and alleging, among other things, that prominent Democrats are part of an international child sex-trafficking ring.
Republican leaders in Washington and Georgia were quick to condemn Greene’s remarks. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) called them “appalling” and Whip Steve Scalise (La.) said he wouldn’t support Greene. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who initially backed Greene along with the rest of the Tea Party faction, revoked his endorsement, calling her remarks “deeply troubling.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sought to tie her to Republicans in more competitive districts by pushing Karen Handel and Rich McCormick, running in Georgia’s 6th and 7th districts, respectively, to denounce Greene and her remarks.
Those tactics could become more common if Greene becomes the nominee, said state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R), who represents part of the district. In addition to the House races, both of Georgia’s Senate seats are in play.
“They want to sell it as how we all think,” said Mullis, who noted many Republicans disagreed with Greene’s views.
Greene and Cowan have also attacked each other over the airwaves on more traditional issues, with a slew of negative ads.
Greene has criticized Cowan’s ties to one of his largest financial backers, Webb Creek Management LLC, one of a number of companies in Georgia that have promoted land-donation deals known as syndicated conservation easements.
Webb Creek’s chief executive officer, Bryan Kelley, has been asked to provide information about such deals as part of a bipartisan investigation by the Senate Finance Committee. The IRS regards many such deals as fraudulent tax shelters, and the Justice Department has pursued a civil lawsuit since 2018 against another major promoter, EcoVest Capital Inc. No charges have been pressed against Kelley or Webb Creek, and Cowan is not being investigated.
Cowan accused Greene of not verifying whether workers at her construction company were legally able to work in the country, something Greene disputed in her own ad in which she accused Cowan of moving jobs overseas.
The 14th District is in Georgia’s northwest corner and includes part of the Chattanooga, Tenn., media market. Graves has held the seat since winning a 2010 special election.
Galloway, who is remaining neutral, said the final tally will depend on turnout. He said Greene’s supporters have stood by her, dismissing her remarks as taken out of context.
Voters bucking their party leadership is part of a nationwide trend, Alexander said.
“Voters are increasingly fearful, angry and concerned that the nation’s leadership, whether corporate, political, you name it, doesn’t have the concerns of ordinary citizens in mind,” Alexander said.
Many voters agree with Greene’s view of the world, said Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University.
“There are quite a lot of people who hold similar views, who are QAnon supporters, who unfortunately hold views that are more in line with the types of things she has said,” Steigerwalt said. “The question is which groups are going to be those who turn out in a runoff, particularly a runoff in a global pandemic.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org