For the past five years and change, Republicans have delighted in watching some — usually white — Georgia Democrats scatter when President Barack Obama comes near.
But they are coming close to having the same persona non grata problem — in the form of House Speaker John Boehner. And Paul Broun, the Athens congressman and GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, is helping to make it so.
The gentleman from Ohio pronounced himself highly ticked off at the kamikaze tactics of the tea party movement after last year’s federal shutdown. “Frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility,” Boehner said in December.
The GOP’s right wing felt much the same last week when Boehner ended his search for a debt-ceiling deal that his House Republican caucus could support. Boehner allowed the debt increase to pass his chamber with a minimum of GOP votes — and a maximum of Democratic ones.
Certain groups immediately declared open season on the House speaker. “A clean debt ceiling is a complete capitulation on the speaker’s part and demonstrates that he has lost the ability to lead the House of Representatives,” said our own Jenny Beth Martin of Cherokee County, speaking for Tea Party Patriots. “It is time for him to go.”
Suddenly, it is good politics in Georgia to advertise one’s distance from Boehner. No one has done it more effectively than Broun — helped by a group known as the Madison Project, which is backing his Senate bid.
When it endorsed Broun last week, the tea party organization said Broun’s “special” voting record included a 2013 vote against Boehner’s re-election as speaker. Broun was the only House Republican from Georgia to oppose Boehner.
On Monday, Broun used Boehner as a club to bash Senate rival Jack Kingston, the Republican congressman from Savannah. At issue was the National Journal’s ranking of Kingston as the 17th-most-conservative member of Congress.
“Kingston conveniently fails to explain that the National Journal uses Speaker Boehner’s position on issues as the benchmark definition of conservative,” Broun declared. “While we all wish that was a reliable measure … experience has taught that it’s not.”
The next day, at a forum of Senate candidates at Turner Field hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business, Broun painted all his rivals with a Boehner brush.
Broun told the audience that he was the only candidate of smaller government. “Not more, not an efficient, socialist government like most Republicans in Washington have been promoting, like most candidates — or all the candidates — in this race are promoting,” he said.
After the NFIB forum, Kingston declined to respond to Broun’s attacks. Asked whether the speaker of the U.S. House had become a liability in his race, Kingston — a member of the House Appropriations Committee — offered a simple “no.”
But it's clear that being pegged as a "John Boehner liberal" -- the mind boggles at the phrase -- has become a real concern.
Georgia has a banquet of GOP congressional races this year where the Boehner conundrum is even more pronounced. In the 12th District race to face down U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, Republican John Stone — one of three candidates in the GOP primary — has based his campaign on regime change among House Republicans in Washington.
Closer to home, Phil Gingrey — like Kingston, another GOP candidate for the Senate — voted for Boehner as speaker in 2013. But in the Republican race to replace the Marietta congressman, the best that the House speaker can hope for these days is uncomfortable silence.
Former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville has, like Broun, been endorsed by the Madison Project. “He will not support Boehner as speaker,” spokesman Dan McLagan said.
State Rep. Ed Lindsey of Atlanta declined to declare himself anti-Boehner, but he offered this: “Our speaker should always enforce the rule that legislation should only come to the floor for a vote if a majority of our Republican caucus supports it. No exceptions.”
Significantly, Boehner violated the so-called “Hastert rule” by bringing last week’s debt-ceiling increase to a vote.
Last year, Bob Barr’s campaign manager — who has since exited — cited the former congressman’s connections to Boehner as a reason that voters should support his bid to return to Washington. His new campaign manager, son Derek Barr, did not respond to inquiries Wednesday.
Marietta businesswoman Tricia Pridemore simply wouldn’t answer the question. “Suffice it to say, while I’ve no time to consider for whom I’ll vote for speaker, I can assure Georgians it will never be Nancy Pelosi or one of Obama’s Democrat apologists,” she said.
Speaking of Pelosi — the California congresswoman is proof that Boehner’s unpopularity among his own kind isn’t necessarily a lifelong condition. The polarizing former House speaker, who remains the Democrat that Republicans love to hate, will be the headliner this morning at a downtown Atlanta forum on women in the workplace.
No doubt she’ll be surrounded by hundreds of people unafraid to be seen with her.