It took 11 phone calls, four emails, one text and six hours of driving to get an interview with Paul Broun. But once I finally caught up with him, he told me he has a theory about why the other four Republicans in the race to succeed Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss say he can’t win in the statewide general election in November.
“They all want to be me. They do!” he told me during an interview in Greensboro, Georgia. “What everybody else says they will do, I’ve already been doing. They all want to be me. It’s become a joke in Congress how Dr. Gingrey and Mr. Kingston have been following my votes. They’ve even changed votes to what I voted, multiple times. Members of Congress are laughing about it.”
Broun is locked in a five-way primary for the Republican nomination, a May contest that has become a race to the right among Broun, Reps. Jack Kingston and Phil Gingrey, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, and former Reebok CEO David Perdue. All five are hoping to capture the state’s active and highly engaged conservative base voters and then advance to the general election to face Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn and the Democratic nominee, whom Broun refers to only as “this extremely liberal lady that Barack Obama has recruited.”
That “extremely liberal lady that Barack Obama has recruited” has become the linchpin for Democrats’ hopes to retain control of the Senate, where they see the Georgia race as a rare pickup opportunity on an increasingly ominous midterm electoral map.
To win, Nunn will need to make the most of Georgia’s changing demographics, while winning women and independent voters away from the Republican nominee. The man Democrats believe will give Nunn the best chance of doing that is Broun, a one-man quote machine whom Democratic and Republican enemies alike warn will be the next Todd Akin, the Republican congressman from Missouri who lost an otherwise winnable Senate race to Sen. Claire McCaskill after a series of missteps and controversial comments about what constitutes “legitimate rape.”
For his part, Broun tags his opponents as “big government, big-spending, big-earmarking, establishment Republicans” and rejects the Akin comparison.
“Establishment Republicans in Washington and Georgia are scared to death I’m going to get elected because I’m the people’s candidate,” he said. “I’m the only non-establishment candidate running in this race. When the media’s attacking me, when the establishment Republicans are attacking me and the Democrats are attacking me that means I’m the “We the People” person and I’m on the right course as far as I’m concerned.”
The “media attacks” he talked about were headlines from a local ABC affiliate that reported Broun had used $33,000 in taxpayer funds for a debate coach in his Washington D.C. office, a story he called “just totally not factual.”
“I do not have a debate coach,” Broun said of Brent O’Donnell, a GOP operative who works on contract for a number of Republican congressmen. “He’s part of my communications team. One of my jobs as a congressman is to communicate with my constituents, as well as to do interviews like this one with national news media. He helps me in that process. He’s not a debate coach and it’s a very valid expenditure.” Broun went on. “We live in a republic, which means representative government, and the only way my constituents in Washington can know what I’m doing is for me to communicate with them and that’s what this gentleman does is help me with that.”
With early voting starting in four weeks, every day counts for Broun and the other Republicans. On Monday, Broun made his way across Greene County giving his pitch to voters, from a morning “Coffee with Your Congressman” at the county Farm Bureau to meeting with county commissioners and then a meet and greet held by the local Republican Party.
At the Farm Bureau, he talked about accountability, quoted scripture (Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”), listed the agencies he’d abolish (EPA, Labor, Education, Energy and Commerce) and refused to support any pending immigration reform efforts. Although several farmers agreed that a labor shortage is costing many growers their farms, Broun told them “nothing else matters until the border is secure,” which he said meant stopping “OTMs.”
“OTMs, that means “Other Than Mexicans,” he told me later. “We have people from the Middle East, from Asia, from all over the world that are coming through the southern border. Some are coming to work. But it’s a porous border that would allow terrorists, al Qaeda and other entities to come in this country who want to do America harm. That’s the reason securing the border is a national security issue. We’ve got to do whatever we can to secure the borders.”
Broun routinely blamed both parties for causing the problems he sees in the country, particularly federal spending, but he seemed confident he was the person in Georgia to start solving them.
“I’m a We the People Candidate,” he said, describing his place in the race. “I represent poor people, I represent working people. I represent senior citizens. I represent family businesses. I represent people who don’t have the wherewithal to hire overpriced Washington lobbyists and lawyers. I want to send the powers back to the states and the people.”
Although he’s a doctor and Marine Reservist by training, a large part of Paul Broun seems to be pure retail politician, a smiling, self-assured, tassel-loafer-wearing hand-shaker. As our interview began, he apologized for not taking questions at an earlier event. By the end of my interview, he had asked for my vote three times and my parents’ votes twice and ducked only one question I asked-- which of the nearby golf courses was his favorite?
“I love to play golf,” he said with a smile. “But I haven’t got time. I’m too busy trying to save America.”