With less than two weeks to go before the Republican runoff for Congress in Georgia's 1st District, the debate is whether to repair Obamacare or repeal and replace the measure.
This has become the decisive issue in the contest to succeed 22-year GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
The national press, and national Republican operatives, are increasingly watching the race between veteran State Sen. Buddy Carter and political newcomer and cancer surgeon Dr. Bob Johnson. In many ways, their contest is a barometer on just how strongly Republicans feel about Obamacare as the leading issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
An elected official since 1989 and a pharmacist long considered the heir apparent to Kingston, Carter opened his campaign by saying of the Affordable Care Act that "so far the law isn't bad."
Johnson, a first-time candidate and 26-year U.S. Army Ranger, hit this hard.
"I say Obamacare is the worst legislation ever written in American history," Johnson told Newsmax. "And with people getting their policies canceled every day, it is getting worse and worse."
In the initial six-candidate primary, Carter placed first with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Johnson at 23 percent. Given Johnson's lack of political experience, his second-place showing was a surprise. Johnson edged out John McCallum (20 percent), a former aide to Newt Gingrich who had the former speaker's endorsement.
Most Peach State pundits concluded that Johnson's call to "repeal and replace" Obamacare resonated with primary voters, and was pivotal to his securing a place in the runoff.
As the contenders come close to the finish line, national conservative groups have begun to weigh in for the hitherto unknown Johnson. Among those endorsing the physician-candidate are the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund, Citizens United, Tea Party Express, Madison Project, and FRC Action. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also endorsed Johnson.
In the closing weeks of the race, Carter has aired commercials that take a somewhat different approach, saying he wants to "delay, defund, and defeat" Obamacare.
Johnson has not changed his "repeal and replace" crusade. His latest radio spots blare: "Some candidates want to delay Obamacare. Dr. Bob Johnson wants to get rid of it."
Johnson has also come out in support of term limits, an issue once near and dear to the right but one ignored by GOP office-holders for most of the last 10 years. Even before the primary, he signed the U.S. Term Limits Amendment pledge to serve no more than three two-year terms. Carter has refused to limit his tenure in Congress and denounced Johnson for possibly short-changing the southeast Georgia district on seniority in Congress.
Another Johnson TV broadside summarizes Carter’s stands on Obamacare, his non-conservative votes on spending in the state legislature, and his two decades-plus in elective office and concludes with a shout: “Hey, Buddy, you’re a liberal!”
Johnson’s campaign quarterback freely admitted that the spot was inspired by hard-hitting commercials aired in Florida’s 1988 U.S. Senate race by Republican Rep. Connie Mack that slammed the record of Democratic opponent Buddy McKay and ended with: “Hey, Buddy, you’re a liberal!”
No one is calling either candidate a sure winner at this point. But it seems a strong bet that the outcome of the runoff in Georgia's 1st District will be reported nationwide, and analyzed for possible trends on whether Obamacare truly packs a political wallop.
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