Whether you like or dislike Donald Trump, there’s no question he has pulled off an impressive political feat. When he announced his candidacy last year, Trump was considered a joke in a Republican field that included seven current or former governors and five current or former senators. But he plowed ahead in his crude, bombastic way and outlasted them all to become the presumptive nominee.
The Republican base is angry with the party leadership, which is primarily why they picked Trump over the more conventional candidates who were the establishment favorites. That Trump effect has worked its way down to the congressional level in Georgia. Several incumbents who haven’t tried to overthrow the party leadership are sweating out challenges from obscure, under-funded opponents. We see in these races the same disgust with the party establishment that fueled Trump’s candidacy.
In the 11th Congressional District, one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the country, Rep. Barry Loudermilk is just about as conservative a politician as you’ll find. It would be difficult to run to the right of Loudermilk without falling into an alternate universe. Even so, Loudermilk is trying to fight off four challengers who are angry that he had the audacity to vote for the re-election of John Boehner as House speaker.
Some of Loudermilk’s opponents are more credible than others. One opponent has raised a grand total of $210; another challenger once served a year in prison. Daniel Cowan, on the other hand, is a businessman who’s put $268,000 of his own money into the race against Loudermilk and has the resources to run TV ads. Cowan says he is running because “it’s clear that the career politicians are failing us.” We should note that Loudermilk hasn’t quite finished his first term in Congress, so he hasn’t really established much of a political “career.”
The same dynamic is at work in the 9th Congressional District with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who’s a grizzled veteran compared to Loudermilk. Collins is in his second term as a congressman. Collins is almost as conservative as Loudermilk, but he also is contending with a gaggle of opponents, including former congressman Paul Broun, who complain he isn’t right-wing enough.
Before he lost in the 2014 Senate race, Broun served seven loopy years in the U.S. House, where he became known for oddball beliefs that included an assertion that the Earth was less than 9,000 years old. Broun has run a scorched-earth campaign against Collins, deriding him as “the poster child for the Washington cartel” and claiming that “D.C. fat cat Doug Collins is back on the establishment’s payroll.”
Collins’ sin is that he voted for Boehner and for a spending bill that included money for Planned Parenthood. Without it, the bill wouldn’t have passed, and the federal government would have shut down.
It’s clear that the incumbents are taking a lot of flak in the primaries. They are also, however, taking in buckets of campaign money, as incumbents traditionally do. The latest disclosure reports show Collins has raised about $845,000, while Broun’s total is a measly $76,000. The other candidates in the running–Bernie Fontaine, Mike Scupin and Roger Fitzpatrick–have raised a little more than $30,000 combined. Loudermilk is a relatively modest fundraiser, but he’s still amassed $514,000. That kind of financial advantage is a big reason why 98 percent of congressional incumbents get re-elected. It’s hard to get your opposition message out if you don’t have enough money to go on TV or send out mailers.
The conventional wisdom holds that Loudermilk, Collins and other congressmen with primary opposition will prevail when the votes are counted next week. But that’s what established politicians like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush thought they would do against Donald Trump. Look where they are now.
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