Representative Paul Broun is a true believer.
When Georgia political insiders talk about Paul Broun, one theme emerges again and again: Broun says what he thinks and thinks what he says.
“I hope any potential opponent will see the wisdom of staying right where they are instead of coming in and letting me beat ’em,” Broun says. “Nobody that will get in this race has actually been there, working hard in the trenches, day after day, promoting cutting spending.”
It’s this outspokenness that might, against the odds, win him a GOP Senate nomination in Georgia next year. Republican senator Saxby Chambliss is retiring, and other Georgia Republicans are looking to run, but Broun’s quirkiness and candor may woo fellow conservatives.
Broun faces an uphill challenge. He may be one of the first Republicans to enter the primary, but he’ll be far from the last. Representative Tom Price, a prominent House conservative, is mulling a run, and representatives Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston are telling supporters that they’re going to get into the race. Other Georgia Republicans are also reportedly looking hard at running for the seat.
A Landmark/Rosetta Stone poll in late February showed the race for the GOP slot to be relatively open. Broun is at 10 percent, but his main rivals — Gingrey, Kingston, and Price — are all within five points of him, and no contender has more than 20 percent support. A third of Georgia Republicans remain undecided.
Of course, others in Washington sometimes say what they think, but Broun is more colorful than most. Here’s a quick sampling of some of his headline-making hits:
“The Constitution I uphold and defend is the one I carry in my pocket all the time, the U.S. Constitution. I don’t know what Constitution that other members of Congress uphold, but it’s not this one. I think the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution, not this one.”
“All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
“I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”
“I was the first member of Congress to call [President Obama] a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies like government control of health care and redistribution of wealth.”
“Truth be told, except for foreign policy, Ron Paul’s voting record and mine are virtually identical and I wear it as a badge of honor.”
You get the idea. Representative Broun doesn’t really have a filter. So why does he say stuff like that? “It’s because he believes it, he really does,” says a Georgia politico. “He’s just a strong believer.”
He’s also an opposition researcher’s dream come true. “They’re going to paint Broun as Satan incarnate, you know? Ron Paul’s No. 2 guy or something,” says another Peach State source. “I’ll put it this way,” the source adds. “If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on Broun.”
But Broun is optimistic. “The thing is, I’ve been involved in trying to stop this level of spending that both parties have been doing that just is totally irresponsible, and the potential opponents have been part of doing it,” Broun says.
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.