Also to Broun’s advantage: He speaks for the religious Right. In the South, religion and politics have always been separated by only the thinnest of walls, and in Broun’s case, the line between religious and political fervor is particularly slim. “He really believes that the Lord wanted him to be a congressman,” says a source close to Broun.
One politico says that Broun made the final decision to pursue a congressional career during his days as a volunteer lobbyist for the Safari Club International, a group that advocates for conservation and hunters. His work with the Safari Club on Second Amendment issues helped to pique his interest in the Constitution. Broun remains an avid hunter. When I stopped by his Hill office, the first thing I noticed was that hunting trophies covered almost every wall. When he had to move offices a few months ago, the movers made quite a scene parading the heads of wild animals through the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Broun doesn’t hunt just for the trophies. “If I shoot it, I’m gonna eat it,” he says. His warthog was particularly toothsome. “It’s actually pork,” he explains. “I had roast warthog, it was cooked in a French style. I’m a French cook myself, and I like to cook things with some fancy sauces and stuff that I’ll make at home. That was excellent.”
The only thing he didn’t especially care for was the lion. “The lion wasn’t particularly tasty,” he says. “It was kind of chewy, but I ate it too.”
Broun first attempted to enter politics in the ’90s. He ran unsuccessfully for the House twice and for the Senate once before finally pulling off a victory in a special House Republican primary against state senator Jim Whitehead in 2007.
Whitehead had endorsements from most of the state’s prominent Republicans — and a lot more money, to boot — but Broun campaigned heavily among Evangelical Christians and ran as an outsider candidate. Sources say he also took out a large personal loan to help fund the campaign, which surprised some political observers because he’d declared bankruptcy in the 1980s. Broun won by 394 votes, astonishing many in the state GOP.
And so far, sources say, he’s remained immune to the altering effects of Washington. One Georgian operative describes Broun as a freedom fighter in Congress surrounded by big-government bureaucrats.
“I think there are members of the delegation who, if you parachuted them into 1960s Hungary, would take up Communism in two weeks,” the operative says. “They would be whatever they had to be to win, and that’s really not Paul Broun, he really believes in what he says.”
“You’ll be talking to him, and something will come up and he’ll put his hand on your shoulder and, ‘You mind if I pray with you about that?’” adds a friend of Broun’s. “And he’ll just start praying, in regular conversation. You could be out in public at some public event and he’ll stop and pray with you.”
As he sits in his office, surrounded by taxidermy, Broun says that in spite of his critics’ naysaying, he can win. “Georgians in the grassroots activist community,” he says, know him and consider him an ally. The race doesn’t look easy, but it seems safe to bet that Broun won’t stop believing.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.