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2 Georgia Congressional Districts Set To Hold GOP Primary Runoffs

NOEL KING, HOST:

Two of the country's most pro-Trump districts have Republican congressional primary runoffs on Tuesday. They are both in north Georgia. And here's Emma Hurt of member station WABE with details.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: The candidate in these runoffs who's made the most headlines is Marjorie Taylor Greene, thanks to videos unearthed by Politico. Here's one clip of her talking about new Muslim members of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: You know, they want to put their hand on the Quran and be sworn in - no, you have to be sworn in on the Bible. But we have an Islamic invasion into our government offices.

HURT: Members of the Republican caucus distanced themselves immediately. One Georgia congressman rescinded an endorsement. The construction executive has also repeated the QAnon conspiracy theory of a deep state working against President Trump, and she won 40% of the primary votes. But she doesn't have the support of any major state and local elected officials. Her opponent in the 14th District, John Cowan, does.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Vote John Cowan August 11.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's exactly right.

HURT: Several of them are at a campaign event for him in downtown Dalton, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's exactly right, folks. Get down here to the Oakwood. Come meet our next congressman. We've got a great crowd. We've got a who's who of people around here wanting to support this great candidate.

HURT: Cowan is a neurosurgeon without political experience. His is a very conservative campaign, with yard signs that say pro-Trump, pro-life and pro-gun - all things that Greene also supports. Yet, as Cowan argues, during this runoff, people are noticing the difference between them.

JOHN COWAN: And I think now that we've had several debates - we've been able to get out and talk to people - they see who the real John Cowan is. Most importantly, they see who the real Marjorie Greene is, and it scares them.

HURT: Greene calls Cowan a RINO, or Republican in Name Only. She says she's a conservative fighter, and her willingness to be politically incorrect, as she says, is not something she apologizes for. Here's a recent Facebook video.

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GREENE: You see, they're used to the typical politicians that just join the club in Washington, and that is absolutely what I am not interested in doing.

HURT: That's also a theme in the other runoff in another deep-red district in the mountains, the 9th. Again, both candidates are very conservative. But, again, one scares the state's Republican, quote, "establishment" - State Representative Matt Gurtler.

MATT GURTLER: I'm the most hated man in Georgia by the establishment Republicans because I don't go along with what they want me to go along with.

HURT: Gurtler has angered his colleagues in the General Assembly over the years by voting no on anything that expands government, including the state budget. He says he doesn't compromise on principles, which he says appeals to his voters.

GURTLER: They want a proven fighter, and they need people to go up to D.C. so that they can call out not only the Democrats but also the RINO Republicans.

HURT: And so Republican leaders and officials have flocked to Gurtler's opponent, Andrew Clyde, a veteran without elected experience who owns a gun store. Martha Zoller is a conservative talk show host in northeast Georgia. She says the runoff shows the district has gotten more conservative and that the same party has controlled it for two decades.

MARTHA ZOLLER: It's kind of the age old question of when you are in power, when you are the majority, you start to faction out a little bit because you don't have a common enemy anymore.

HURT: University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock says the runoffs are telling for any Republican running statewide. They indicate how far right some of the party's voters have gone as the state as a whole is moving to the middle.

CHARLES BULLOCK: It will make it harder, then, for Republicans who are sensitive to the growing Democratic strength in the state to moderate.

HURT: If they do, he says, they risk alienating their conservative base in places like the mountains.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in north Georgia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOE'S "AFTER IMAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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