Andrew Clyde, a gun store owner and the Republican nominee in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District, fielded attacks on his business dealings and a recent lawsuit against Athens-Clarke County during a debate Monday ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
His Democratic opponent, actor and U.S. Army veteran Devin Pandy, jabbed Clyde for costing Athens taxpayers “tens of thousands of dollars” amid the cash-strapped days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandy also called Clyde “another millionaire attempting to buy an election.”
But Clyde took the criticism in stride during the debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club. His reluctance to punch back at Pandy likely stemmed from the position he holds as the Republican nominee in a heavily conservative district covering northeastern Georgia from Gainesville to Athens.
The June 9 primary election tells the tale: More than 140,000 Republican voters turned out for that election, while Democrats only cast around 31,000 ballots.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Clyde absorbed similarly fierce blows from his Republican opponent in the Aug. 11 primary runoff, state Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, before winning by a comfortable margin.
On Monday, the two general-election candidates squaring off ahead of next month’s contest stuck with party lines on bread-and-butter issues, forcing Pandy to go on the offensive to distinguish himself in the Democrat-averse district.
Pandy slammed Clyde for suing Athens-Clarke officials to keep his business open during the county’s shelter-in-place order in March, drawing parallels between that case and contracts Clyde held with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after he sued the federal agency for asset forfeiture and pushed legislation to reform the practice.
“Andrew Clyde only wants to be involved in government when it impacts his own bottom line,” Pandy said during Monday’s debate.
Ignoring those attacks, Clyde embraced his past battles with the IRS as a pillar of his conservative personality and limited-government political beliefs.
“This experience showed me there’s a very thin line between we the people running our government and our government running us,” Clyde said. “And I believe that we the people need to run our government.”
Pandy also had sharp criticism for Clyde on the issue of climate change, which the Republican nominee on Monday said he does not think exists beyond the normal four-season cycle each year. Claiming that scientists have “changed their tune on climate change,” Clyde argued “there are scientists who believe it and many who don’t.”
“I will hold court with those scientists who don’t believe in man-made climate change,” Clyde said.
Pandy poked holes in that stance, arguing signs of rising global temperatures have been seen in worsening natural disasters like wildfires in California and that “97% of scientists around the world agree climate change is real.”
“Humans may not have started it, but we are definitely making it exponentially worse,” Pandy said. “It wouldn’t be something that sets the entire West Coast on fire if it wasn’t real.”
Clyde also used the debate stage to tout his support for dismantling the IRS through a so-called FairTax levy on spending only, while Pandy called for establishing a universal basic income.
The election on Nov. 3 is poised to decide who in the 9th District will replace U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who has opted to run for U.S. Senate. Early voting began Monday.