MARIETTA, Ga. — If one knew of Rep. Paul Broun only from a 90-minute Senate candidate forum Tuesday, it wouldn’t be obvious he is the cause of so much heartburn among Republican strategists from Capitol Hill to Atlanta — all hoping to hold the party’s most vulnerable open seat .
Broun, known widely for his controversial comments on evolution and other topics, sat stoic and expressionless on the dais as four other Georgia Republican hopefuls professed their conservative credentials. Each time the moderator called on him, Broun took a slow, deep breath before calmly — though sometimes haltingly — laying out his views and record on a range of issues.
That included his bill to prohibit “amnesty” in any comprehensive immigration overhaul, his bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his staunch support of the Second Amendment. All are firmly conservative positions, but his answers lacked any hint of the rhetoric that has some party insiders concerned his nomination would put in jeopardy a seat the party must hold for any hope of winning the Senate majority. Broun, tall, silver-haired and turning 68 less than a week before the May 20 primary, lags in both polling and money . With a month to go, former Dollar General CEO David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston — neither of which attended the forum — are considered the frontrunners in an unpredictable race to the July 22 runoff.
In an interview after the Tuesday night forum hosted by the Cobb County Republican Women, Broun was far looser than on stage. He expressed confidence he would win both the runoff and general election, and offered his assessment of why some view him as a flawed statewide candidate.
“They don’t want me there, because I want to take the power away from them,” said Broun, a three-term member. “I want to send the power back to ‘we the people.’ Establishment Republicans like a big government.”
On taxes, Broun said, “If 10 percent is good enough for the Lord, it ought to be good enough for Uncle Sam,” but to do that the federal government must shrink. His proposal includes dumping the federal departments of Education, Commerce, Energy and Labor, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which are better handled by the states, he said.
Former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who ran for governor in 2010, was the most polished of the five candidates who spoke in front of a sparsely filled public meeting room just off the Marietta Square. The only woman in the field, Handel pitched herself as the most electable candidate in the field against the likely Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, who like Broun is one of the most conservative members of Congress, was far more animated than his House colleague during the forum, held in the town Gingrey practiced medicine and served on the school board. As he angles to make the runoff, Gingrey’s final pitch to the audience made clear he is fighting for voters who may be considering backing Broun.
“You need to pick the most conservative of us who can win in November,” Gingrey said. “I am that person. I don’t have hard edges. I get along with people. But I don’t sacrifice my principles either.”
In the interview, Broun was confident he would have the resources necessary to win. But in a conversation with a supporter just after the event, Broun laid out the challenge he faces over the next month.
“I’m going to need your help talking to people … because I don’t have the money that Kingston and Perdue have,” Broun said. “We need to develop an army of ‘we the people’ to make sure that people come to the polls.”
This race is rated Favored Republican by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
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