ATLANTA (AP) - A self-styled constitutional conservative who’s been a thorn in the side of Republican leadership is taking on a gun dealer who fought the IRS and won in the Republican runoff in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District.
The winner of Tuesday’s matchup between Matt Gurtler and Andrew Clyde will be a heavy favorite to succeed U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who’s running for the Senate. One of the nation’s most reliably Republican congressional districts, the 9th covers all or part of 20 northeast Georgia counties.
Gurtler won 21% of the vote in the nine-way primary June 9, while Clyde took 18%.
Democrats on Tuesday will choose either Devin Pandy or Brooke Siskin as their nominee.
As a state representative, some dubbed Gurtler as “Dr. No” for how often he voted against legislation. He said he is fighting the establishment, seeking a small government that he sees as true to the U.S. Constitution.
“I have proven that in my time as a Georgia’s most conservative legislator over the last four years by opposing those big government policies, and I’ll do the same thing as a congressman,” Gurtler said July 29 at a forum in Cornelia sponsored by The Northeast Georgian newspaper.
Clyde touts his record as an Athens gun dealer, his 28 years of Navy service, and his successful advocacy of restrictions on the IRS after the agency seized $940,000 from him in 2013.
“I think that business experience and my military experience, my combat experience, has taught me many lessons in life that are very valuable in making good and wise decisions,” Clyde said during an Atlanta Press Club debate on July 19.
The two differ little on policy, both supporting gun rights, opposing abortion and opposing government spending and debt.
As of July 22, Clyde had raised $117,000 and loaned himself $740,000. He’s paid back $81,000 in loans and had $43,000 on hand. Gurtler raised $651,000 and loaned himself $7,000. He had $83,000 in cash on hand.
The Republican group Club for Growth is backing Gurtler by running television ads attacking Clyde. With Gurtler’s history of rebellion against Republican state House Speaker David Ralston, a number of state and local Republicans are backing Clyde.
Gurtler describes restrictions during the COVID-19 outbreak as a “constitutional crisis,” noting he voted against emergency powers for Gov. Brian Kemp because it allowed unlimited extension without legislative approval.
“The constitution doesn’t get shredded because we have a pandemic,” Gurtler said.
Gurtler has been attacked for accepting an endorsement from American Patriots USA, which includes members with a history of white supremacy. Gurtler earlier described it as “a pro-gun, conservative group that supports President Trump.” In June, he said “I abhor bigotry and hate of any kind. Racism doesn’t have any place in our community.”
Clyde slammed Gurtler for missing a vote on a law that provides additional legal protections for police officers. Gurtler said he was meeting with constituents in north Georgia.
Clyde also criticizes Gurtler for failing to support a state House resolution congratulating Donald Trump for the U.S. killing of an Iranian general whom American officials described as a terrorist.
“It codified language with the United Nations,” Gurtler said, explaining his opposition. “It also praised the failed foreign policy of President George W. Bush…. We’ve got to bring the troops home and stop the nation-building.”
Gurtler has sought to turn Clyde’s history of advocacy against the IRS against him, saying it is “hypocrisy at its finest” because his business is selling guns to the agency. Clyde says he must sell to all federal agencies under a contract his business won.
Democrats Pandy and Siskin are running lower-profile campaigns. Pandy touts his Army career as preparation.
“The difference is is that I have experience. It may not be political experience, but I have experience,” Pandy said.
Siskin said she wants to speak up for people who aren’t usually heard.
“I’m running for Congress because I truly want to be an advocate for change in my district,” Siskin said. “I want to be a voice for women and men who don’t have one.”
Siskin was arrested for disorderly conduct in March at a Gwinnett County bank and police found a loaded handgun in her car. A judge found Siskin in contempt on June 19 for violating a 2012 divorce decree requiring that she surrender weapons. WAGA-TV reported Siskin refused to surrender a second gun.
Siskin denied wrongdoing.
“I did comply with the order,” she said. “I only have one gun. I was ordered to turn in that gun because of a false narrative of someone, of my ex-husband, claiming that I had another gun.”
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