Republican Chris West plans to carry his dark horse momentum to November to unseat a longtime House Democrat in Georgia.
After surprising voters this year with an unexpected win in the GOP primary in Georgia’s rural 2nd Congressional District, Mr. West is convinced voters are ready to propel him to another upset victory. This time over 14-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr.
“Every once in a while it’s time to rotate the crop, and we believe now is the time to do that,” Mr. West said in an interview with The Washington Times. “What we offer is a fresh perspective, a business approach to really move our district forward.”
It’s a tough slog for Mr. West, a lawyer and officer in the Air National Guard, and it looks to be getting tougher. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics recently moved the district from “leans Democrat” to “likely Democrat” in its election forecast.
But it’s still the tightest House race in Georgia and the most challenging political environment for Mr. Bishop since 2010, when Democrats were on the ropes with voters stung by the Great Recession and a rising conservative movement.
The district is considered the least Democratic-leaning majority Black district in the country. Mr. Bishop became the first Black congressman to represent South Georgia in 1992 after the district was redrawn.
Mr. West, who is White, is running on his strong ties to the largely agricultural district that is the home of former President Jimmy Carter. And the district’s voters, Mr. West said, are ready for a change and fed up.
“We jumped in this race and fought through a six-person primary and now I’m the nominee in a race against a 30-year incumbent and we think we’re really going to surprise a lot of people,” Mr. West said. “I’m talking to people all over the district with all kinds of different backgrounds and the message that I’m hearing is we’ve got to have a change in Washington.”
His platform includes lower taxes, U.S. energy independence, cracking down on violent crime and illegal immigration, and supporting minority-owned businesses, as well as improving education, health care and broadband internet access in rural America.
Mr. West has surprised the political prognosticators before with his defeat of Republican favorite Jeremy Hunt, who is Black, in the June runoff election by around 750 votes.
Mr. Hunt, an Army veteran and West Point graduate, had the advantage of national GOP endorsements and outside money, with two major conservative political action committees spending more than $1.4 million on his campaign.
Compared to Mr. West‘s $232,000, Mr. Hunt raised over $721,000 ahead of the primary runoff election.
Mr. Hunt was also a frequent face on Fox News to the point where another GOP candidate, Wayne Johnson, sued the network over accusations it provided Mr. Hunt free air time to aid his campaign.
Mr. West credits his ability to naturally connect with people because of his history with the district where he grew up in.
“It wasn’t [won] with flashy television ads or fancy media. It was just authentically representing who we were and the message was spread to some degree by a lot of volunteers who helped us and believed in our campaign,” Mr. West said.
The same attitude, he said, will prevail against Mr. Bishop, whom Mr. West says has outgrown the district. He is using Mr. Bishop’s party-line voting record to paint him as an out-of-touch liberal.
“Sanford Bishop, five or 10 years ago, I would argue was a much more challenging opponent. His voting record has gotten out-of-touch with this district,” Mr. West said. “I don’t know the reason why he has taken such a left turn, but it is not keeping with the values that people hold in this district.”
The message echoes the House GOP‘s campaign organization, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which included Mr. Bishop on their target list of over 70 vulnerable Democrats.
“After decades in Washington, Sanford Bishop is directly responsible for Democrats’ failed agenda that is making everyday life more expensive for Georgia families. Bishop’s political career will come to an end in November when voters send Chris West to Congress,” said NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer.
Mr. West hits Mr. Bishop for his voting pattern that mirrors House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the face of the far-left “Squad,” as well as his falling rating with the National Rifle Association.
Mr. Bishop has voted 100% of the time with President Biden and Mrs. Pelosi, and more than 90% of the time with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, according to the vote tracker by the political statistics website FiveThirtyEight.
Mr. Bishop is a member of the Democratic centrist of the Blue Dog Coalition and was one of three Democrats who took campaign contributions from the NRA in 2018. His NRA grade went from an “A” to a “C” in 2020 after he backed an expansion of background checks for firearms.
The Bishop campaign cited the lawmaker’s record in Congress and his votes in Congress to support infrastructure, veterans, and protecting abortion access as strengths. The campaign also defended the congressman’s shifting grade in the NRA.
“It is Chris West, not Sanford Bishop, who is out-of-step with the people of the 2nd District,” said Bishop campaign manager Robert West. “When Congressman Bishop joined the NRA 30 years ago, they believed in responsible gun ownership, including reasonable background checks to keep guns out of the hands of people who, by reason of criminal history or mental instability, are likely to shoot school children in class, worshippers in churches and synagogues, or patrons in a nightclub.”
The campaign also noted the congressman’s independence and loyalty to his district.
“Congressman Bishop is not left nor right. He is not red nor blue. He is for the people of the 2nd District, and he always puts people over politics. Not Chris West,” the campaign manager said.