Good Morning Georgia

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has a GOP challenger in Jennifer Strahan

Strahan, who runs a healthcare advisory firm, is one of three Republicans challenging Greene

Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, Courtesy

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jennifer Strahan

The standard narrative suggests that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) remains safely ensconced in her district of northwest Georgia, despite the behavior that has defined her brief if tempestuous first year in Congress. But one Republican who is challenging her in next year’s primary, Jennifer Strahan, argues that voters are fed up with provocations from Greene that, she says, have only further exposed the congresswoman’s political impotence.

“I think there is a fallacy that Marjorie Greene has a stronghold on northwest Georgia and that everyone thinks the same way that she does,” Strahan, a healthcare executive and visiting assistant professor in the business department at Georgia State University, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview. “That’s just simply not true.”

Presenting herself as a sensible and even-tempered alternative to the freshman flamethrower she has vowed to unseat, Strahan, 35, believes that voters will naturally be drawn to her candidacy as she makes her pitch traveling Georgia’s deeply conservative 14th Congressional District in the coming months. “People are tired of the antics,” she said, “and ready for real progress.”

This week’s controversy, in which Greene unleashed a viciously worded social media broadside against a fellow House Republican, setting off a cascade of hostile recriminations, underscored Strahan’s argument. Though Greene, 47, has proven highly capable at generating headlines, she is otherwise ineffectual because, for almost a year now, she has been barred from advancing legislation in the House and seems uninterested in regaining that privilege. “That shows where her priorities are,” Strahan told JI. “It’s a lot easier, to be frank, to complain about things on social media.”

Still, in recent months, Greene has established herself as a prolific fundraiser, despite holding virtually no procedural power in Congress. Last February, following a contentious House vote, she was stripped of her committee assignments over past comments in which she had endorsed violence against her political opponents and perpetuated antisemitic conspiracy theories — and social media has in many ways become the most valuable resource in her limited arsenal.

Even for a House member who breathes controversy, however, Greene’s Tuesday morning Twitter tirade, in which she denigrated Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) as “the trash in the GOP conference,” felt like something of an escalation. 

Mace, for her part, had placed herself on the congresswoman’s list of enemies after publicly condemning remarks in which Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), a Greene ally, had used an Islamophobic slur while insinuating that a Muslim legislator, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), was a possible suicide bomber. 

The controversy mutated into an intra-party feud when Greene retaliated and other Republican House members jumped into the ring, even as Mace — who shot back with a string of emojis describing the congresswoman as “batshit crazy” — seemed capable of holding her own.

Naturally, Strahan sides with Mace. “Rep. Greene’s attack on Rep. Mace is unwarranted and proves why she no longer belongs in Congress,” she told JI this week. “Going after a fellow Republican when Democrats are in full control of government is counterproductive and further alienates Rep. Greene from the GOP conference. This is why I am running. We need real leadership.”

Greene’s office did not respond to a request for comment from JI. 

As for Boebert’s comments, which echoed the inflammatory language Greene herself has often leveled at Omar, Strahan was cautious but still made sure that she had appropriately distanced herself from the GOP fringe. “While I ardently disagree with much of what Rep. Ilhan Omar stands for, religious bigotry is not what America stands for,” Strahan said. “The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to practice their religion freely.”

Strahan is one of three Republicans who have declared against Greene, including Mark Daniel Clay and Charles Lutin, who announced his candidacy just last month. Strahan, who runs a healthcare advisory firm in metropolitan Atlanta, lives in the southeast portion of the district and entered the race in September.

It is still possible that additional candidates will jump in. But at this point, Strahan appears to have established herself as the most viable contender, having outraised her opponents while building what she describes somewhat needlingly as a “grassroots movement that is uniting conservatives who want a congresswoman who can accomplish something other than managing to embarrass the Republican Party and the entire state of Georgia.”

But whatever grassroots support she has built hasn’t yet translated to a cash advantage over the well-funded incumbent. So far, Strahan has only pulled in around $56,000, according to the latest filings from the Federal Election Commission — a number dwarfed by Greene’s comparatively imposing haul of $6.3 million.

That presents a major challenge for Strahan, according to Jay Williams, a GOP strategist in Atlanta who is not involved in the primary. “It’s going to be very difficult for her to overcome that money difference just alone,” he told JI. “Marjorie Taylor Greene has a ton of money, like real money, millions.”

Marcus Flowers, one of four Democrats now vying for the chance to dethrone Greene, has meanwhile raised a formidable sum of $3.3 million, according to the FEC. Nevertheless, political observers agree that Flowers, an eccentric Army veteran who is almost immediately recognizable in his signature black cowboy hat, remains a long shot at best because of the partisan makeup of the district, even as a redrawn congressional map included deep blue portions of southwest Cobb County in metropolitan Atlanta. 

The new boundaries are slightly more hospitable for Democrats but have still preserved a safely Republican seat. Despite a favorable outcome, Greene castigated the resulting lines, which Democrats aren’t happy about either. In a statement last month, the congresswoman argued that “this year’s redistricting by the Georgia GOP will prove to be a fool’s errand that was led by power-obsessed state legislators.”

Strahan believes that Greene would have no reason to express frustration if she “spent more time serving her constituents instead of herself,” she said in response to the congresswoman’s gripe. If Greene “were in any way effective at advancing Georgia’s priorities in Congress, she would not be worried about representing 78,000 new voters,” Strahan added. “But, sadly, she is the epitome of what’s wrong with Congress.”

Whether those new voters present an opportunity for Strahan is at least hypothetically conceivable in Georgia’s open primary system, according to speculation from political observers. But there are still many obstacles in place complicating that possibility. “If I were a strategist for Strahan, I’d say definitely go for the new folks,” Williams told JI, adding the caveat that reaching such voters can be prohibitively expensive, because “Atlanta is a sinkhole for media.”

Strahan says she is “confident” of her ability “to raise the funds that are needed” as she seeks support. In the months since launching her campaign, she claims to have generated interest throughout the district as well as at the national level, including conversations with Jewish and pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC, the Republican Jewish Coalition and CUFI Action Fund, the lobbying arm of Christians United for Israel, that she characterized as promising. 

The race is of interest to Jewish community leaders across the country who have condemned Greene’s antisemitism, which includes support for QAnon conspiracy theories as well as past social media comments in which she suggested that California wildfires were caused by a space laser controlled by a Jewish banking family. More recently, Greene has likened mask and vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany, even after apologizing for such comments and visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Last month, in a series of unusual tweets, the congresswoman said she had found “common ground” with the Nation of Islam — whose leader, Louis Farrakhan, has espoused a litany of antisemitic conspiracy theories while railing against Israel and “Zionist Jews” — after flipping through an issue of its newspaper.

“I think comments like that show how unprepared and just uninformed she is in terms of being able to represent our district,” Strahan said of Greene. “There’s a lack of self-awareness.”

For Strahan, who describes herself as a devoted evangelical Christian, such comments are also personally offensive to her faith. “I do believe, as Americans and as Christians, that we’re called to defend and support Israel and God’s people,” she explained. “I believe that we have a responsibility to do that.”

“I’m very grateful, as a born-again Christian, for being able to keep my relationship, first and foremost, with God above everything else,” Strahan elaborated. “That’s a big reason as to why I feel called to do this is — to be able to stand for Christians, stand for Israel and stand for God.”

Strahan has never been to Israel but says it has long been “on the list.” In a position paper provided to JI by her campaign, she warns that “Middle East Christian communities are being destroyed by daily threats of terror attacks, imprisonment and even execution,” adding that, if she is elected, “I will raise awareness of the worsening plight of Middle East Christians and work to protect The Holy Land, the shared birthplace of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”

Elsewhere in the paper, Strahan expresses support for the Taylor Force Act, which witholds U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority on the condition that Ramallah ends payments to the families of terrorists. “The Palestinians must end the practice of financially incentivizing attacks on innocent Israelis,” she writes, “and the Palestinian Authority should receive no more funding from the United States until that happens.”

In the interview with JI, Strahan said she is in favor a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and believes that encouraging “direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians” is the best approach, rather than an agreement “directed by a third party” such as the United Nations.

Strahan argues that Jerusalem should “remain” Israel’s “indivisible capital going forward,” while supporting Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Like most Republicans, she expressed a positive view of former President Donald Trump’s Middle East foreign policy approach, including moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and exiting the Iran nuclear deal.

Greene, who earned Trump’s endorsement last year, was baptized in 2011 and often invokes her faith. Despite having shared a video, just a year before she was elected, asserting that “an unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists and Zionist supremacists has schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation,” Greene has argued that it is far-left Democrats in the House who have contributed to rising incidents of antisemitism. Following the May conflict between Israel and Hamas, she charged in a combative Twitter post that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was “responsible for attacks on Jewish people” because of what she described as her “hate-Israel stance.”

“I don’t think it’s uncommon for her to speak out of both sides of her mouth, to be honest,” Strahan said of Greene’s engagement on Israel issues. “I mean that in a respectful way. But she says she supports Israel, and then she just recently talked about the Nation of Islam and ‘common ground.’”

The Georgia congresswoman appears to have found some measure of support within segments of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, while receiving positive coverage in Ami Magazine, the right-leaning Orthodox weekly.

But other groups dedicated to pro-Israel advocacy say her rhetoric is unforgivable. “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is an embarrassment to her constituents and to our country,” Sandra Parker, the chairwoman of CUFI Action Fund, told JI in a statement. “Her absurd, antisemitic statements make it unambiguously clear that she does not share the values Christian supporters of Israel hold dear. In stark contrast, we’ve gotten to know Jennifer Strahan and we can say unequivocally that she will fight for Israel and against antisemitism. The people of Georgia’s 14th District deserve better than their present representative, and they have a fine, values-driven alternative in Jennifer Strahan.”

Notwithstanding such enthusiasm, the organization was unable to disclose whether it had plans to invest any resources in the race. Boris Zilberman, director of public policy and strategy at CUFI Action Fund, said the group is now “evaluating which races and to what degree we’ll be getting involved in,” adding in an email: “This one is obviously high on our radar but can’t confirm anything yet.”

Likewise, the RJC has yet to determine whether it will actively engage in the race, despite its firm and public opposition to Greene. “Our position as it relates to Marjorie Taylor Greene and her comments and actions is absolutely clear,” said Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director. “We opposed her in the primary last time because we had fundamental differences with her, and she has done nothing so far during her term to change our opinion.”

But the qualities that many critics view as disqualifying were, it seems, largely what drew voters to Greene in 2020, and may help boost her again in the upcoming midterms, according to Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia. “I think Majorie Taylor Greene is actually a pretty good fit for that district,” he said. “It’s a district that believes everything that Donald Trump says.”

Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, offered a similar view. “Greene’s antics should stand her in good stead with the large majority of Republican primary voters in her district,” he told JI. “It’s all about ‘owning the libs.’”

“Barring her conversion to the Democratic Party, Greene is going to be reelected,” Daniel Franklin, an associate professor emeritus at Georgia State University, said in a matter-of-fact assessment.

Still, Strahan still thinks she is strongly poised for an upset, not least because, unlike Greene, the congressional hopeful will, if elected, be capable of serving on committees where she can properly fulfill her duties as a House member by advancing legislation. 

Strahan floated some possible committee assignments she would like to receive, including Ways and Means, Small Business, Agriculture, and Transportation and Infrastructure. (Greene had previously sat on the Education and Budget committees.) “These are things that are very relevant and appropriate and important for my district,” Strahan said, “so that would make them important for me.”

More broadly, Strahan suggested that she is running on the conviction that, even just a year into her tenure, Greene’s theatrics are already growing stale. “I’ve never seen someone change their mind by just yelling in their face,” she said. “That’s just not the way you get things done. That’s not the real world. These are very serious concerns that we have. We need someone who can have those tough conversations. That doesn’t mean you’re compromising your values, but it does mean you’re respecting the other individual enough to be able to have a real and productive conversation.”

Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, believes that Strahan’s criticisms “are eventually going to be” Greene’s “undoing.”

“It took a number of years for voters in Iowa to get tired of Steve King,” Gillespie noted, referring to the former Republican congressman who was removed from his committee assignments in 2019 after an interview in which he had questioned why terms like “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” had “become offensive.” 

Long a divisive presence within the GOP caucus, King, who was known for making racist remarks, lost his bid for reelection last year in the primaries and no longer serves in Congress.

Gillespie predicts a similar fate for Greene, but questions the timing. “Eventually, her antics will ring hollow,” she said. “It’s not clear that’s going to happen this time around.”

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