DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. – It was an old-school mixture of Douglas County politics and religion — ham and cheese sandwiches, potato chips and big, ol’ cookies served in the fellowship hall of a United Methodist church.
About 60 men gathered for lunch in that room to break bread and pray for one another, their families and friends.
Sitting at the first table on the right was Dylan Glenn, a 35-year-old black man running for Congress in Georgia’s conservative 8th District that is 88 percent white. The Columbus native is bucking decades of history in a bid to become the first black Republican elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction.
Glenn, a former presidential aide, is in a runoff for the Republican nomination against Lynn Westmoreland, a powerful leader in the Georgia General Assembly.
The man who brought Glenn to the Douglas County gathering was Harvey Persons, a starched-shirt Republican and former Douglasville city council member.
Persons believes Glenn is the man to represent this mammoth 18-county district that stretches from parts of suburban Atlanta to affluent sections of Macon and Columbus.
“He represents our values, beliefs and philosophy — less government, lower taxes, sound Christian values,” Persons said.
The racial percentage in that church fellowship hall nearly mirrored the district Glenn is fighting to represent. There were three black men in the prayer crowd, the rest white.
Race became an issue in this campaign three weeks ago, when state Sen. Mike Crotts, who finished third in the four-man primary, speculated the district might not be ready to elect Glenn because he is black. Crotts since has endorsed Glenn.
“This room is pretty representative of the solid, core Christian values of this district,” Persons said. “Can he be elected? Maybe 40 years ago, he couldn’t, but times have changed.”
Times may have changed, but politics haven’t.
Westmoreland was the primary frontrunner with 45.8 percent of the nearly 100,000 votes cast, while Glenn collected 37.6 percent of the vote.
The Westmoreland campaign conducted a poll the day after the July 20 election. Glenn and some who were polled contend race-based questions were asked in an effort to sway potential voters. The poll, conducted by Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies in Alexandria, Va., showed 50 percent of the 300 likely Republican voters would support Westmoreland in the runoff. That compared to 39 percent who said they would vote for Glenn.
Chip Lake, a general consultant for the Westmoreland campaign, said no race-based questions were asked. In a description of Glenn, the candidate was described as an African-American, Lake said. “It is consistent with the way Dylan has described himself in polling.”
Some high-profile Republicans see Glenn as someone who would help the party. He has received public support from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose old Congressional district included portions of the district Glenn seeks to represent. Monday, Jack Kemp offered his support to Glenn, who worked in the Dole-Kemp presidential campaign in 1996. Glenn also has been endorsed by House Ways and Means chairman Bill Thomas of California.
There is currently no black Republican in Congress. Kemp said Glenn’s election would be a plus for the party and the people in the 8th District. He even compared Glenn to Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who currently faces no opposition in November and to become a U.S. senator. Obama was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention last week.
“I watched Obama the other night,” Kemp said. “It was a great speech for the Democratic Party and not because of race. Because he believes in one America. He does the Democratic Party proud. I think Dylan Glenn would be to the Republican Party what Barack Obama is to the Democratic Party. I think having Dylan Glenn would do us proud.”
As Glenn has gotten closer to a seat in the House, questions have been raised about the following:
• Glenn’s residency. He says he lives at 1045 Country Place in Columbus. Westmoreland, who sent an aide to knock on the door, disputes that.
• Glenn’s service in Washington and his desire for a congressional seat. Glenn has been an adviser to former President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush. During his work for the current President Bush, Glenn was an economic adviser and commissioned officer. He points out he had a security clearance equal to a two-star general. Westmoreland has said Glenn has exaggerated his Washington importance. One of the primary opponents, Tom Mills of LaGrange, quipped that Glenn’s Washington title was handed “out like M&Ms.” This is Glenn’s third bid for Congress. He failed in 1998 and 2000 in attempts to unseat Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop in the 2nd District.
• The South Georgia Economic Development Corp., an Albany, Ga.-based non-profit organization to attract industry and jobs. In the two years Glenn ran the agency, Westmoreland contends he took $100,000 in salary and gave out just $50,000 in grants.
Last week while riding through the district, Glenn talked about the charges:
• The residency. “Is it misleading that I was born and raised in Muscogee County? Is it misleading that I went to Eastway Elementary School, Arnold Junior High School or Pacelli High School? Is it misleading that my father taught school at Fort Benning, that my mother taught school in Columbus?… It is asinine. It frustrates me to have a conversation about where I sleep at night.”
• His Washington jobs. “I was a special assistant to the President of the United States for economic policy. That is not a title that is handed out like M&Ms. That was an unfortunate remark. I consider it a privilege and honor to serve the Commander in Chief as a commissioned officer.”
• The South Georgia Economic Development Corp. When asked who funded that organization, Glenn said, “It was a private entity and that is nobody’s business. I raised money from individuals and corporations. That sounds like a question the IRS would ask… . What did we do? We started a charter school. We gave a grant to the Sumter County schools. We took educators, administrators and parents to visit a school system in Houston. We wanted them to see what excellence looked like.”
As the pressure on Glenn intensifies, men like Persons, the Douglasville Republican, stand tall in his corner.
Persons was asked whether Glenn can win.
“Sure he can,” Persons said. “Not only can he win, he’s going to win.”
Contact Chuck Williams at (706) 320-4485 or email@example.com