Ahead of the primary election, a crowded field of Republicans in Georgia’s 6th District try to distinguish themselves

The nine candidates largely sidestepped policy specifics to spar over the results of the 2020 election and debate which of them is the “true conservative” in the race

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Georgia 6th District Republican Primary Debate
Jake Evans (left) and Rich McCormick are regarded as the frontrunners in the Republican primary race for the 6th Congressional District

Photograph by Rachel Garbus

Georgia’s Congressional District 6 is been among the most-talked about by political observers for the past several years. The former district of ultraconservative Newt Gingrich, Democrats flipped this swath of the northern metro in 2018, and current Rep. Lucy McBath has held onto her seat for two election cycles. But during 2021 redistricting, Georgia lawmakers redrew the 6th District to include most of conservative Forsyth County, and analysts say the new map again favors Republicans. McBath opted to run in the friendlier, bluer 7th District (which prior to redistricting included Forsyth County but now includes mostly Gwinnett County) instead, and Republicans in the 6th are confident they can beat out a newcomer Democrat. The question for now is which Republican. On Sunday, nine GOP hopefuls flexed their conservative bona fides at a debate at Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Midtown studio, hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.

The crowded field has two front-runners: Rich McCormick, an ER doctor and former U.S. Marine, who narrowly lost against Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in the 7th District in 2020; and Jake Evans, an attorney and former chairman of the Georgia Ethics Commission. Each has raised well over a million dollars in campaign contributions.

Other competitive hopefuls include former state Rep. Meagan Hanson, an attorney who served one term in the Georgia House; Mallory Staples, a private school teacher running on an ultraconservative parents’ rights platform; and Suzi Voyles, a former poll manager who has pushed unsubstantiated claims about Georgia’s election being stolen. Rounding out the contenders are Blake Harbin, a business owner who came in third in the 2020 GOP primary for the same district; Byron Gatewood, an army officer and business owner who says he’s close with former District 6 Rep. Tom Price; Paulette Smith, mother of former Atlanta Hawks’ player Joshua Smith and a district chair for the GOP; and Eugene Yu, a veteran, former firefighter, and business owner.

As in other Republican debates this season, candidates largely sidestepped policy specifics to spar over the two main themes animating the party of late: the results of the 2020 election, and which of them is the “true conservative” in the race.

Evans, who has insisted without evidence that Georgia’s 2020 elections were riddled with fraud, is positioning himself as the “America First” candidate, a Trump-style conservative who is part of a “new generation of bold freedom-fighters.” He attacked McCormick, who has courted support from moderate Republicans, for being a “RINO”—a “Republican in name only”. McCormick shot back that he’s endorsed by members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group that also includes hard-core Trump supporters like U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). (In an email, his team clarified that Stefanik has not specifically endorsed McCormick.) “Anyone who’s willing to fight the left, to go against Biden and Pelosi . . . those people are all joining the cause to get something done in Congress,” McCormick retorted.

McCormick accused Evans of being inconsistent in his statements and in his support for the police: several candidates blasted Evans for a 2015 law review article on race and criminality that Evans wrote early in his legal career, which they say is evidence of Evans’s support for “defunding the police.” Hanson read aloud a quotation from the article: “’Government resources should be reallocated from the criminal justice system to the education system,’” then added, “A.K.A, defund the police.” Evans shot back that he’s been an “unwavering supporter of law enforcement,” and encouraged voters to read the article themselves.

Staples, meanwhile, has challenged both frontrunners from the far right. A self-styled “MAGA mom” with three children and a background in Christian ministry, Staples has been likened to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for her ultraconservative platform, political outsider identity, and deep fealty to Trump. She’s positioned herself as a concerned parent running to protect American values, criticizing the idea of “critical race theory” and saying the federal government is “the worst idea when it comes to education.” She told voters, “It’s never been more important for parents to take control.”

Staples attacked Evans for his inconsistent support of the former President: “President Trump is all over your ads,” she told Evans. “But you called the 2016 election one between ‘the lesser of two evils.’” Evans retorted that throughout this campaign, he’s been “never wavering” in his support of Trump, and noted that he’s been endorsed by Fox News host Sean Hannity, former District 6 Rep. Newt Gingrich, and Dave Bossie, Trump’s former campaign manager.

At one point, moderator and WSB-TV reporter Dave Huddleston asked all candidates whether they believed the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump. The array of responses illustrated the needle Republican politicians are threading in appealing to both hard-core Trump supporters and conservatives less fixated on the Big Lie. McCormick claimed there was rampant voter fraud during Georgia’s 2020 election—he has never conceded his loss to Bourdeaux—but dodged on the question of whether Trump was the rightful winner of the presidential election. Evans hedged similarly, citing his legal work contesting elections in several Georgia counties and claiming “widespread fraud” in 2020. But later, when pressed for a yes or no answer on whether the 2020 election was stolen, Evans said, “I don’t think we can ever fully know.”

Staples was unequivocal that Georgia’s 2020 election has been stolen, and blamed elections officials for failing the state’s voters. Voyles asserted the same, and Smith went further, claiming that not only was the presidential race stolen, “but also our senators, our congresspeople, even on the local level—it was stolen.”

Only one candidate, Hanson, denied outright that the election had been stolen: “I have not personally seen the evidence that would conclude that the entire election was stolen.” But she added that several issues “give her pause,” including mail-in ballots and claims of ballot-harvesting. She praised Georgia’s state legislature for passing SB 202, which placed numerous restrictions on ballot drop boxes, and reminded District 6 residents that every vote counts: “Cast your ballot, because it matters.” (Investigators have never found any evidence that the 2020-21 elections were fraudulent.)

The primary election is May 24, but early voting begins today. The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face one of the two Democrats running in the primary: Bob Christian, a U.S. Army veteran with a background in restaurant management, and Wayne White, a PhD in international affairs who works in foreign aid and international resource management.

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