Business

How a wealthy businesswoman moved to a depressed, rural corner of Georgia, won over its voters, and got them to send her to Congress

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Marjorie Taylor Greene.

  • Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the most divisive new politicians in Congress.
  • Insider spoke to political leaders in her Georgia district who told us how she rose to power.
  • This is how she out-fundraised and out-charmed fellow Republicans, then cruised her way to Washington.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

For a freshman Republican representing a small, rural district in Georgia, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has garnered an outsize reputation.

In just over a month in Congress, Democrats have slammed her ties to the QAnon conspiracy-theory movement, journalists resurfaced old social-media posts supporting violence against liberals, and the House voted to remove her from committee assignments.

In the heat of Greene’s scandals, Insider spoke to Republican and Democratic organizers in her district on how she was elected in the first place, what Greene’s constituents think of her public reckoning, and her shot at reelection.

Trump country

Located in the northwest corner of the state, Georgia’s 14th congressional district is an overwhelmingly white and rural area, where most residents have just a high-school education and the median household income is about $10,000 less than the national average, per Census figures. 

The district is considered the 10th-most Republican district in the nation, with Republicans averaging 32 more points in Georgia’s 14th than nationally, according to a Cook Political Report analysis of 2012 and 2016 presidential election results.

Luke Martin, the Floyd County Republican Party chair, said conservatives in the district look for candidates who are pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business, and support a limited government.

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Protesters outside House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield, California, office on February 4, demanding Greene’s removal from Congress.

Manufacturing is the district’s dominant industry, according to the Census, with Dalton considered the “carpet capital” of the world. The coronavirus pandemic hit this industry particularly hard, but good jobs have been dwindling for years due to automation or cheaper immigrant labor, and that’s caused stress for working-class whites.

“They’re not allowed to unionize, they’re being replaced by immigrants, and they see Black people as having protections through civil-rights laws, and so they say they’re not even as protected as Black people,” David Boyle, the Walker County Democratic Party chair, said.

“So this sense of aggrievement is very, very powerful, and Marjorie Taylor Greene stirs it up.” 

The outsider

Boyle described Georgia’s 14th congressional district as an insular, blue-collar community that historically doesn’t take well to outsiders.

So it was “interesting,” he said, that a rich businesswoman from the Atlanta suburbs could move to the district and get elected.

Greene, the founder of a CrossFit gym and co-owner of a construction firm her father started, moved from Alpharetta to Rome, Georgia, in 2019 to run in the 14th district. She had no experience standing for political office at the time.

Martin, the Republican chair of Floyd County, said he wasn’t sure how well Greene would do when she first entered the race. But she “did a good job of integrating herself into the campaign” and made her outsider status a “non-issue for voters,” he said.

What voters liked about Greene was her likeness to Trump, who was popular in the district. (He won the 14th’s counties by over 80% in the 2020 election, per state public records.)

“She’s an in-your-face type and people really warmed up to that,” Tim Shiflett, Democratic Party chair for Georgia’s 14th congressional district, said. “They like that because they like Donald Trump.” 

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Greene speaks beside then-President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Dalton, Georgia, on January 4, 2021.

Dr. John Cowan, the neurosurgeon Greene faced in the primary runoff, was also “pretty conservative” but not as “in-your-face with it,” said Tom McMahan, the Dade County Democratic Party chair. 

“The last election was framed as: ‘What kind of conservative do you want, someone who will stand up to the Democrats and weak Republicans or someone who will go there to make friends?'” said Martin, one of the Republican leaders.

“The district overwhelmingly chose Marjorie Greene because she labeled herself as a fighter.”

Greene’s campaign ran with the slogan “Save America, Stop Socialism,” and that message “hit home” with conservatives in northwest Georgia, said Darrell Galloway, the Republican chair for Greene’s district.

This exaggerated conservatism may have helped win over the “hardcore” Republicans who tend to dominate voting in primaries, said Vincent Olsziewski, the campaign manager for Kevin Van Ausdal, Greene’s Democratic opponent in the general election.

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Greene with a supporter at a campaign event in Floyd County, Georgia, on October 31, 2020.

But Shiflett, another Democrat, said Greene didn’t seem to win over the supporters of other candidates who ran in the first GOP primary. She got about the same number of votes in both the first primary and the runoff, suggesting that some Republicans didn’t warm to Greene.

In such a strongly Republican district, Greene was pretty much a shoo-in for the seat after becoming the GOP nominee. But the general election was even easier than expected when her Democratic challenger dropped out of the race in September, giving her a direct path to Capitol Hill.

Outspending the competition 

Shiflett told Insider that Greene had a leg up on her competition in the Republican primary because she originally meant to run for Georgia’s 6th congressional district, and only switched to the 14th in December 2019 when incumbent Rep. Tom Graves announced he was retiring.

She started fundraising months before Graves’ announcement, meaning when she changed races, she wasn’t starting from scratch like the other eight Republicans running for the 14th.

Federal Election Commission data shows just how much Greene out-fundraised her competitors. By the time of the June 9 Republican primary, Greene had raised more than $1.2 million. The closest any of her competitors got at this time was the $833,000 raised by Cowan, the only primary contender who also advanced to the runoff.

Greene went on to beat Cowan in the runoff, and by the end of the year had more than doubled his total fundraising of $1.4 million, FEC data shows.

Greene was also able to loan money to her own campaign throughout the race. In total, she contributed nearly $1 million of her own money to her own campaign, compared to Cowan’s personal loans of $275,000, FEC filings show.

The money Greene raised and loaned to herself helped her buy ad time across the district and make herself a recognizable figure, Shiflett said. He said this shows in how the district voted: Cowan won his home county, Floyd, while Greene won everywhere else.

Life in the national spotlight

It’s harder to say what Greene’s constituents think of her now that she’s gained national notoriety. 

Shiflett, the Democratic chair for Greene’s district, said he believes the vast majority of Republicans still support Greene. “They view her as a fighter,” he said.

Martin, one of the district Republicans, said some of her fans “support her stronger,” but that many other people who voted for her “are disappointed or don’t like the attention.” 

They “just wish she would put her head down and get to work,” Martin said.

But Darrell Galloway, the district’s Republican chair, said he’s been getting calls from constituents who said that they didn’t vote for Greene, but support her now that Congress has stripped her of committee assignments.

If given the chance, they’d vote for her now “to send a message a DC,” Galloway said. “They feel they’re disenfranchising us as a district and feel it’s a great hypocrisy on the parts of the House Democrats.”

Martin said that while some voters “are disappointed she won’t be on committees,” the attention has “made her more powerful in Congress.” 

“Anytime she speaks, she’s going to have a very large soapbox,” Martin said. “Being in the national spotlight, depending on what she does next, could be a really good thing for the district.”

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Greene hosts a press conference in Washington, DC, after the House voted to remove her from her committee assignments on February 5, 2021.

But McMahan, one of the Democrats, said there are signs that Greene’s stripping of committee assignments has “damaged her a bit.”

“Some people who may otherwise vote for her, now see her just there self-aggrandizing,” McMahan said. “She can vote, but she can’t really do anything else.”

“I don’t think people were bargaining for the stuff she’s been doing. I’ve been listening to a lot of the chatter and conservatives here aren’t liking what they hear and see from her.”

But whether these revelations will harm Greene in the next election remains to be seen. 

Reelection chances

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Greene wearing a “Free Speech” face mask as she walks through the halls of Congress, tailed by reporters, on February 2, 2021.

Greene will have to defend her seat next November, and her flamboyant conservatism makes her a target for both Democrats and establishment Republicans. 

“I certainly expect her to be in a primary fight in 2022,” said Martin, the Floyd County Republican.

But Galloway, the district Republican chair, said it will be hard to unseat Greene because of her loyal fans.

“As it stands right now, she would be very hard to beat because her voters are very supportive and they’re going to come out and vote,” Galloway said. 

There are signs that Greene’s fanbase is only growing. On February 3, as the GOP leadership faced calls to remove Greene from Congress, she told the Washington Examiner that she had raised over $300,000 from more than 10,000 donors in the previous week. 

While it would be hard for a Democrat to beat any Republican in the district, the Democrats say they like their chances if Greene makes it to the next general. A dozen Democrats are already planning runs for the seat in 2022, 11 Alive reported.

“In the past, we’ve had to settle for maybe one person to run in this district, because they’re basically acting as sacrificial lambs,” Shiflett told Insider.

“Thanks to Marjorie Taylor Greene, that’s not going to happen anymore. She will be running against quality opposition.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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