Acrimony and insults flew in a debate Sunday between two Republican candidates vying for Northwest Georgia’s congressional seat who showed little daylight separating them on policy issues but much disagreement over which of their backgrounds should appeal more to conservative voters.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a construction business owner, leveled accusations of falsely impersonating a police officer and weak support for gun rights against opponent John Cowan, a neurosurgeon who owns a toy shop.
Cowan punched back, slamming Greene for accepting federal COVID-19 assistance for her company while accepting campaign donations and questioning why she did not vote for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential primary.
Both candidates met in a debate held by the Atlanta Press Club ahead of a runoff election for the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District set for Aug. 11. The winner is poised to face the race’s only Democratic candidate, implementation specialist Kevin Van Ausdal.
The contenders are aiming to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, a Republican, who announced late last year he will not seek re-election to a sixth term. The reliably Republican district stretches from Paulding and Haralson counties north through Rome, Calhoun and Dalton to the Tennessee line.
Greene reeled in more than 40% of the vote in the June 9 GOP primary election in a strong showing that nearly doubled that of Cowan’s share but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Since then, Greene has faced backlash over past online videos reported in the Washington Post and Politico in which she appeared to promote the anti-government conspiracy theory QAnon and dismiss the racial-justice underpinnings of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.
In Sunday’s debate, Greene did not answer a yes-or-no question on whether she believes in the QAnon theory, opting instead to condemn former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
She also voiced belief in the “deep state” theory concerning alleged conspiratorial acts by U.S. intelligence officials that have been discussed by many conservative media commentators.
“I like many Americans am disgusted with the deep state who’ve launched an effort to get rid of President Trump,” Greene said.
Greene was also pressed by Cowan on whether she would return federal money given to her construction company for COVID-19 relief while also soliciting donations for her campaign. She called Cowan out-of-touch with Georgians’ struggles due to COVID-19, which she labeled “Chinese virus.”
Greene took aim at China again by criticizing Cowan for purchasing items for his toy shop from the country, saying he purchases “cheap trinket toys [from China] instead of creating jobs here in Northwest Georgia.”
Cowan responded that he buys “goods overseas just like her construction company does” and that he works with local distributors and small-business owners.
Greene then accused Cowan of falsely posing as a reserve deputy in Floyd County despite not receiving that status, calling it “shameful” to do so. Cowan pointed to Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter’s statement that he was sworn as a “special reserve deputy for attachment to the SWAT Team.”
“There’s lots of squirrels and bats in that attic,” Cowan said, dismissing Greene’s accusations.
Cowan also fielded attacks from Greene over certain campaign contributions and a lack of endorsements from gun-rights groups that she framed as weak support for the Second Amendment. She described him as “compensating” in pro-gun campaign ads.
Cowan rejected the assertion, touting his pro-gun platform and claiming Greene donated to a political action committee that has contributed to Democratic candidates.
“She’s making a ridiculous campaign because she’s a ridiculous candidate,” Cowan said.
Beyond the sniping, both candidates expressed desire to reform immigration laws and work with county and city governments to address issues stemming from opioid addiction.
Each candidate also questioned the other’s support for Trump, with both angling to emphasize that they would strongly back the president if elected.
“I have passionately supported President Trump from day one,” Greene said.
“I consider my campaign for Congress to be entirely about supporting the president and his agenda,” Cowan said.