About 100 people poured into the historic white marble courthouse to hear from Bob Barr and Barry Loudermilk, though many of the attendees, from the look of campaign T-shirts, had already made their choice for the July 22 runoff.
The forum, hosted by the Cherokee County Republican Women, was mostly tame, with the candidates calling the Obama administration into question, to the pleasure of the conservative crowd. But there were a few moments of tension as Barr, a former congressman, and Loudermilk, a former state senator, were asked about recent criticisms they’ve received.
The two Republicans are competing for the seat after coming out on top in the May 20 primary for the Republican nomination to move on to the November general election. Loudermilk took the highest percentage of the vote, with Barr coming in second. With no Democrats running, the runoff will decide the winner of the seat covering all of Cherokee and Bartow counties, a portion of Cobb and a small piece of Fulton.
Loudermilk was the first to address his detractors when asked about allegations made this week claiming he has tried to give the impression he was a pilot in the Air Force, when he only became a pilot after returning to civilian life. The question, like all others asked, was submitted by the public before the event.
“I’m speechless that veterans would take that approach when I have been absolutely, absolutely, clear throughout this campaign, throughout my life … that I worked in intelligence,” he said, referring to the allegations by a group of veterans, led by retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Mrozinski, a former candidate in the District 11 race.
Loudermilk said “some members with another campaign” took statements he made at a previous forum “out of context, greatly out of context,” in an effort to discredit him. Mrozinski was knocked out of the race in the May 20 election and has since endorsed Barr.
“The fact is I served in the Air Force, and in that debate, I said I served in intelligence,” Loudermilk said. “I’m also an aviator. I own a flight services business in Rome, Ga., where we teach aviation, and I mentioned that I am in that industry. I am a pilot.”
The candidate said his opponents also pulled a photo from his website, showing him in a flight suit, as evidence of his alleged embellishment. Loudermilk said the photo was taken when he was in the
Air Force and volunteered for search and rescue missions.
Amid the allegations, Loudermilk released his “military resume” this week and a document showing he left the Air Force with an honorable discharge.
Barr didn’t respond to Loudermilk’s insinuations Thursday night his camp is behind the criticisms. But he told the Tribune sister paper the Marietta Daily Journal this week Loudermilk is just playing politics.
“They see me behind every criticism that’s raised,” Barr told the newspaper. “That’s just typical Washington politics.”
Barr was asked if he truly wrote a letter endorsing Eric Holder for U.S. attorney general in 2009, “even though, at the time, he was widely known to be a progressive activist.”
The former congressman said he penned a letter endorsing Holder after he and many other conservative political players were asked to do so.
“Unlike some other candidates, everything I’ve done has been open and transparent,” Barr said. “I write about topics or take public positions on various issues, or in the case of my service in Congress, (cast) about 5,000 votes, and it’s an old political trick to search through those 5,000 votes and pick out one that can be taken out of context, or somebody may disagree with; or one letter that was written; or one article that was written.”
Barr said he got used to that kind of thing dealing with people, such as President Bill Clinton.
But he noted: “In the letter — although when it was published by my opponent, (this) part was conveniently left out — I said I disagree with policies of Mr. Holder, but in terms of his legal standing and his professionalism, I’m happy to recommend him.”
After a few years of watching the controversial attorney general, Barr said he has a firm opinion against him. Barr accused Holder of “sitting back and not pressing this administration and this president to abide by the law.”
“I called for his resignation,” Barr said, “and I’ve done so repeatedly since that time, because I do think that the time has come for this president to leave office, for this attorney general to leave office, this IRS head to leave office and for the people at the Veteran’s Administration, who are killing our veterans, to leave office and be prosecuted.”
With Barr’s previous experience in Congress and Loudermilk’s lack of federal legislative experience, another key point brought up during the forum was how much experience truly counts, and which man has what it takes to fight for the conservative agenda in Washington.
Loudermilk said his experience in Georgia government was a tool because he’s seen the effects of federal law on the states. He also said there’s a saying that, “If you want to get something done, give it to a rookie.”
He told the story of when, as a new state senator, he pushed a change in the law through the General Assembly after others had tried and failed. He said he was asked how he accomplished the “impossible” feat, and he responded, “I just found out it was ‘impossible.’”
The Bartow resident said the main difference between he and Barr was consistency.
“Consistency on values, consistency on principle, consistency on ideas. I have been consistent throughout the years, unwavering, steadfast on conservative, Republican values,” he said. “I will be consistent. I have been consistent, and I will represent you with honor and integrity.”
Barr touted his previous work in Congress from 1995 to 2003 and his time as a U.S. attorney under President Ronald Reagan.
If elected, Barr said he would regain his seniority in the House and he intends to return to several powerful committees.
With troubles of economy, national security and a president with “no earthly idea” how to stand up to forces against the country, Barr said experience counts.
“These are problems that require immediate, focused attention by the Congress,” he said. “Contrary to what Barry says, the Congress doesn’t work on the principle that ‘If you want something done, give it to somebody who’s brand new.’”
Instead, Barr said Congress needs someone with “knowledge, consistency” on how to “move our conservative agenda forward.”
“It’s not going to get moved forward by sending people to Washington to just vote no on everything,” he said. “It’s going to get fixed by having people who can go eye to eye, toe-to-toe with (the Democrats).”