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GOP May Finally Land White Whale Marshall in Georgia

John McArdle/Roll Call
Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall (right) and Republican state Rep. Austin Scott square off in a debate at the Georgia National Fair in Perry last week.

But this cycle Republicans think all the pieces are finally in place: Marshall is running in his redrawn district in a very Republican-friendly national environment against a highly touted challenger.

Scott, who was elected to the Georgia House in 1996, decided late in the cycle to drop his gubernatorial ambitions and challenge Marshall. He used his connections around the state to quickly raise money and has succeeded in outraising the incumbent in the two quarters that he has been in the race.

Scott has an intense style and isn’t afraid of a fight. The feisty young lawmaker proved that a decade ago when, at age 31, he risked his political career by becoming the first Republican to support the Democratic-led effort to change the state flag.

Before getting into politics, Scott began his career by opening an independent insurance brokerage firm in Tifton, where one of his early clients was Bill Davis, who owns the Smokehouse restaurant as well as two car dealerships in central Georgia.

Davis said Scott has long reminded him of another insurance agent-turned-Congressman, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).

“Austin Scott and Jack Kingston are businessmen,” Davis said. “They’ve had to work for a living. They’ve had to make a payroll. They aren’t lawyers.”

He said he knows Scott to be a “good, honest, God-fearing person.”

If Scott’s goal is to position himself as a fresh conservative voice for the 8th district, Marshall’s goal has been to paint him as a GOP loyalist who lacks experience and is too caught up in partisan politics to be an independent voice for middle Georgia. Marshall clearly wants to be seen as the thoughtful statesman who has the connections and know-how to best help his constituents.

Democrats are also working to foster the notion that there’s a darker side to Scott’s personality. His 10-year-old divorce records have become a subject of keen interest ever since a Democratic activist filed a motion earlier this month asking that they be unsealed. A state Superior Court judge has scheduled a hearing on the motion next week.

Marshall has said he had no part in making the divorce a campaign issue, but he said before last week’s debate that now that the divorce has come up, the public has a right to know what’s in the sealed documents.

“I’ve heard consistent allegations of what’s in there, and it’s not pretty stuff,” Marshall said. “There are things that go on in marriages that can shed light on the character of the individual.”

 

‘Not One of These Nut Cases’

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