Republican Bob Gray hired the staffers who quit a rival campaign's staff en masse after complaining she couldn't pay their campaign bills, the latest move in an increasingly bitter race to represent a suburban Atlanta district.
Jack Melton, the former campaign manager for tea party activist Amy Kremer, said the Republican side of the April 18 special election appears to be between Gray and former Secretary of State Karen Handel - and that Gray was his pick "as the only conservative outsider in this race."
Many Republican analysts now see Democrat Jon Ossoff, who has become a fundraising dynamo for national Democrats, as a shoo-in to lock up one of the spots in a likely June 20 runoff to win the seat, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb. That's prompted the 11 Republicans in the 18-candidate field scrambling for a slice of the electorate to sharpen their attacks on each other and Ossoff in the final month before the vote.
Gray, a former Johns Creek city councilman, has faced his own questions about the depth of his support for Donald Trump, who he has put at the center of his campaign. Other Trump loyalists have accused him of papering over his past support for Trump's rivals in the 2016 primary, pointing to social media posts purported to be from Gray critical of the president.
"The Republicans cannot afford to lose this seat to the liberal Democrat Ossoff by putting forward a fatally flawed candidate, who now appears to have not only been lying throughout the campaign about not being a politician but has been lying about his support for Donald Trump in an effort to try and further his political career," said former state Sen. Judson Hill, another GOP contender.
Gray spokesman Joash Thomas on Saturday called the allegations "simply fake and untrue" and pointed to Gray's work at Trump's Georgia campaign office during the campaign as "something that can't be photo-shopped."
"Failing campaigns always attack first," he said. "It's not surprising that we're a target."
Tea party activist Amy Kremer’s bid for a suburban Atlanta congressional seat is in turmoil after her campaign manager and the rest of the staff resigned Friday because he said she can’t afford to pay her bills. Another ex-staffer who was staying at her home said he called the police to help him get his valuables out after she changed the locks.
Jack Melton said she has only raised about $2,500 and couldn’t pay him and at least a half-dozen other staffers who fanned out to homes across the district, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb, pushing her campaign message.
“It’s very disappointing. It broke my heart,” said Melton. “We were doing great work. But you can only treat people like that for so long.”
Kremer spokeswoman Kathryn Serkes said Melton took "unauthorized liberties and conducted business in ways that Amy was not comfortable with," forcing his departure. She described changing the locks at her home as part of routine "appropriate security measures after parting ways."
"The campaign feels strongly that the people representing Amy and the campaign must reflect the highest standards and principles," said Serkes.
Once the chief executive of the Tea Party Express, Kremer is one of 11 Republicans and 18 candidates overall in the April 18 special election to replace Tom Price. With Democrat Jon Ossoff’s emergence, Republicans increasingly acknowledge they're warring over one spot in the likely June 20 runoff.
She tells Republican audiences she’s the candidate who is “not going to be scared” to fight for conservative values, and is a frequent presence on cable news. But she’s struggled to gain traction in a field with higher-profile Republicans and bigger campaign coffers.
Melton said he was hired in early February as her campaign manager to canvass neighborhoods and plot strategy, and that more than a dozen field staffers were handing out her leaflets to thousands of households across the district on some weekends.
But he said her paltry fundraising fast caught up to her, and that she refused to meet with a fundraising consultant he and another staffer hoped would help her raise more cash. He provided invoices detailing at least $22,000 in unpaid bills, and said he was torn up about his decision.
“We kept getting pushback and no pay. And we finally said we can’t do this anymore. We would submit an invoice but there was just no money being raised or had. We did everything we could,” he said. “We’ve just got move on from it.”
Cooper Mohr, 30, was on the campaign's field team and was staying in Kremer's east Cobb house with two other staffers. After he resigned from the campaign, he said Kremer changed the locks and wouldn't let them get their belongings. Reached outside her house on Friday, he said he contacted the Cobb police for help.
"I'm not going to let them do this to us," he said.
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