A tech executive and former Navy SEAL filed paperwork to join the race for Georgia governor, signaling he'll try to cast himself as the leading outsider in an already-crowded GOP contest packed with candidates with elected experience.
Clay Tippins, 44, filed papers on Thursday to succeed a term-limited Gov. Nathan Deal. He enters the race as a virtual blank slate, with no public profile or voting record, little name recognition and without the huge trove of cash needed to finance his campaign on his own.
A formal announcement is expected within weeks.
He faces four Republican current or former office-holders, each with a voting record and policy initiatives to tout on the campaign trail. But Tippins' supporters hope his outsider status appeals to conservatives who turned to newcomers Donald Trump and David Perdue in past Georgia votes.
A graduate of Shiloh High School, Tippins is a nephew of state Sen. Lindsey Tippins and was captain of Stanford University’s swim team.
He joined the elite Navy SEALs shortly after graduating and later moved to Silicon Valley to work for several startups. In the mid-2000s, he re-enlisted in the Navy Reserves and was recently dispatched to Iraq for a counter-terrorism tour of duty.
He’s now an executive vice president of Capgemini, the global consulting firm, and lives with his wife and two kids in Atlanta.
Republican outsiders have had mixed results in Georgia. Businessman Guy Millner lost a trio of statewide races in the 1990s, and other newcomers have struggled mightily in elections for governor and U.S. Senate.
Perdue broke the mold in 2014 when he defeated a cast of veteran politicians in the race for an open U.S. Senate seat. But he also could rely on a multimillionaire fortune to help bankroll his campaign and a brand-name political network led by his first-cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue.
In this contest, Tippins would have to quickly boost his profile in a field that includes better-known names: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former state Sen. Hunter Hill and state Sen. Michael Williams.
Former Democratic state Reps. Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans are also in the contest, hoping to flip the state for the first time since Roy Barnes' defeat in 2002.
The financial challenges ahead for Tippins are daunting: The other four GOP candidates have each raised or loaned themselves more than $1 million – Cagle took in nearly $3 million - and it's not immediately known how deep Tippins is willing to dip into his personal account.
But Tippins' supporters contend he can fill an open lane in the crowded race as the outsider alternative for voters and donors not satisfied with the leading GOP candidates. His military service also could help in a state where roughly 8 percent of voters served in the armed forces.
The only other military veteran in the contest is also the candidate who seems most likely to be hobbled by Tippins' entry: Hill, a former U.S. Army officer who, like Tippins, is also a metro Atlanta executive and was a star athlete in high school.
In a recent interview, Hill said he was unfazed by the additional competition.
"The water's warm here - he can jump in," said Hill. "We're not concerned about it. We're just going to keep pounding our message of a more limited, conservative government that's going to deliver more results for the taxpayers."