Georgia Republican bets on Washington ties to help his nomination for an open congressional seat

NEWNAN, Ga. — (AP) — Backed by Donald Trump, Republican Brian Jack is trying to power his way to the nomination for an open Georgia congressional seat on the strength of his alignment with the former president and other national GOP figures.

But opponent Mike Dugan is arguing that Jack’s Washington insider status is a liability, saying voters should instead prefer his “Georgia values.”

The 36-year-old Jack is a Peachtree City native who worked on Trump's 2016 campaign and served for four years as White House political director. After that he worked for then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

That experience brought Jack not only Trump’s endorsement, but a fundraising haul from McCarthy and other top congressional Republicans. Now in the final week, it’s bringing a parade of congressional notables to campaign for him, including Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan on Monday. Another of Jack’s former bosses, ex-U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, is scheduled to stump for him on Thursday.

“In me, you have somebody who has worked by President Trump’s side for the last eight years, somebody who President Trump has endorsed, somebody President Trump trusts to be an America First ally,” Jack said Monday after a rally in Newnan with Jordan. “I think that’s what our congressional district wants.”

Dugan, the 60-year-old former state Senate Majority Leader, argued in a Sunday Atlanta Press Club debate that voters should prefer his experience as a decision maker and coalition builder, noting Jack has only aided those who made decisions. Dugan also argues that Jack is a “D.C. insider” whose ties to Georgia have frayed since he moved away for college, noting that Jack's donations have mainly come from out of state.

“So, do you want somebody that has actually lived here in the district, that has worked in the district, whose family's here in the district?" Dugan told reporters after the debate. "Or do you want somebody that has come from D.C., been there the entire time since they graduated from college?”

Both men are trying to push voters to the polls ahead of what could be a very low turnout in the June 18 runoff. The winner will be the favorite to succeed Republican U.S. Rep Drew Ferguson, who's stepping down after four terms.

The 3rd District hugs the Alabama state line from Carrollton south to Columbus and hooks east into Atlanta’s southern suburbs, with Republicans typically winning about two-thirds of the vote, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

Democrat Maura Keller awaits the GOP nominee in November, having beaten Val Almonord in that party's May 21 primary.

The runoff has stayed mostly polite, with both men launching some tentative attacks, but not really pressing them home. On Sunday, for example, Jack knocked Dugan for voting for a 2015 road funding package pushed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, calling it “the largest tax increase in the history of Georgia.”

Dugan parried by noting lawmakers had passed multiple tax cuts or rebates during his time in the state Senate.

“I’m pretty proud of reducing the tax burden on Georgians,” Dugan said.

The candidates do have some differences. Jack voices support for Trump's plan for “the largest domestic deportation in America's history” to remove immigrants who entered the country illegally. Dugan backs plans to “close” the border, but said on Sunday that the U.S. also needs to

“Once that border is shut down, then we do need to take a long, hard look at immigration reform because we need because we need new people coming into the country," Dugan said. "We need skill sets that we don’t have readily available in the numbers that we need here in the U.S.”

Jack won nearly 47% of the vote in the May primary, while Dugan won almost 25%. The third-place and fourth-place finishers, former state Sen. Mike Crane and former state Rep. Philip Singleton, have both endorsed Jack, stumping for him on Monday. Dugan points to endorsements by a number of state senators he served with.

Dugan won only his home base of Carroll County in the May 21 primary, but said Sunday he believes he can flip the dynamic in the runoff.

“We have been down more than this before,” Dugan said during the debate. “In my first race, I was down by a larger number and came back.”

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