To anyone who questions whether Rep. Phil Gingrey’s candidacy is being cheered by Washington Republicans, witness the opening minutes of Monday’s forum of Republican Senate candidates, hosted by the Georgia Municipal Association.
Rep. Paul Broun, feared by some establishment types as being vulnerable to a general election upset, was pressed on whether he thinks giving a free AR-15 to a supporter is actually such a good idea. (He offered the assault rifle on Friday.)
Broun responded as he has throughout the campaign, touting his Second Amendment chops and saying “Georgia is a pro-gun state.”
It was Gingrey’s response, though, that turned heads. He suggested Broun’s gun giveaway was political pandering, and said that every candidate on the stage was sufficiently pro-gun rights.
“I’m not accusing him of a stunt,” he said -- and in so doing, made that very accusation.
After the forum was over, a crowd of reporters huddled around Gingrey to push him to elaborate. They eventually teased this from him:
“Paul is a good man. I’m not accusing Paul of invoking a gimmick,” he said, adding: “It’s a little gimmicky.”
The other candidates didn’t take the bait. But Gingrey, in his closing, gave a glimpse at his pitch to out-conservative Broun. “You need the right person to represent you – the most conservative candidate who can be elected in November.”
If there was another point of departure at Monday's event, it was the topic of Internet sales -- and whether companies that sell their goods online should be subject to state sales taxes like their bricks-and-mortar brothers.
Georgia passed such a law last year. The U.S. Senate has passed out the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would address the question on a nationwide scale. The six Republican candidates were asked their opinion. These were among the replies:
-- Gingrey praised Georgia's effort, and said he would consider the federal version, but strongly implied that he would ultimately vote against it:
"I don’t it really should be a federal issue. I know the Senate has already passed that. I know our two senators voted in favor of it. It hasn’t come to the House yet. It’s something I’ll look at very, very closely. I’m so much against raising taxes – and [for] promoting entrepreneurship of these small shops, mom-and-pops, that are on the Internet. But we need to look closely at it.”
-- Broun was more succinct: “We shouldn’t be raising taxes on anybody,” he said.
-- David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, broke from the pack by endorsing the measure:
“Being the only retailer up here, I can tell you – I’ve seen both sides of this conversation. Look, one of the things the federal government does – or should do, frankly – is make sure all players in our free enterprise system play on an even playing field. Here’s where, because of technology, they’re not. Frankly, I think whether you have brick-and-mortar, or Internet sales, we should have the same rules apply to both. That’s from a retailer.”
-- Rep. Jack Kingston portrayed an Internet sales tax as a slippery slope:
“If you put this Internet sales tax on the table, then you are also going to inch municipal bonds there. Now, I do not favor stopping the tax exemption for municipal bonds, because I know how important that is for you as a tool for economic development.
"But if you start picking and choosing which taxes you want, that’s what’s going to happen. When we take the plunge for tax simplification, we have to do it all at once.”
-- And Karen Handel said implementing the tax would be daunting:
"I appreciate that we want to have fairness across the board for businesses. I’ll tell you, I have real concerns that this bill might have some unintended consequences. Remember, the revenue threshold for this is $1 million. For most small businesses, they’re margins are going to be 5 percent, maybe 10 percent. The compliance aspect of this is going to be enormous…."
Over at the Associated Press, Bill Barrow added these thoughts from the event:
As the Q&A exposed some distinctions among the GOP field, it also highlighted the tightrope candidates walk as they try to yield no ground on their conservative credentials.
[Eugene] Yu stood out on immigration, saying "amnesty ... is insulting to someone like me who came here legally." But he said the U.S. government should make it easier to immigrate legally.
Perdue said he opposes the Senate immigration law. But he broke from the chorus of opponents to frame the entire question as a "Washington distraction" that takes attention away from the more pressing matter of a structural budget deficit and rising national debt.
Broun, after multiple claims of being the most conservative, recalled voting for a House measure that would have barred federal law enforcement from prosecuting doctors who prescribe marijuana for medical treatment.
Perdue broke with Broun and said Congress should require online retailers to collect sales taxes. Kingston expressed sympathy for store-front retailers facing online competitors who don't collect taxes, but he took pains to say any changes should be a part of a comprehensive tax overhaul. Broun said plainly that levies on Internet sales amount to a tax increase.
Gingrey and Handel expressed sympathy for the pending proposals, heavily backed by retailers with store fronts, but they stopped short of explicit support.
Broun, who repeatedly railed against "out-of-control government spending," highlighted his work to secure federal money for an Athens health center and other projects he said were worthy.
Railing on the national debt, Handel said, "I don't think we can afford to have anything be a sacred cow." But she went on to state her general support for "priorities" that include "community development" grants to local governments.
On the same topic, Gingrey assured the audience, "I know how important they are to you, and I will continue to work very hard to make sure that this cow is just as sacred as any other."