Politics & Policy

Southern Conservative Comfort

Will Georgia voters embrace GOP rising star Dylan Glenn?

It’s not often one meets a young congressional candidate who, despite having never held elective office, boasts support from the likes of Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, former Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, and House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas (R., Calif.). But Dylan Glenn–who has worked as special assistant to President Bush and deputy chief of staff to Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, and is now running for an open House seat in Georgia’s 8th congressional district–is not your average up-and-comer.

”Women go crazy for Dylan–they swoon,” said a friend of Glenn’s just before the candidate made a lunchtime appearance in New York City recently. Impeccably dressed, Glenn has a fresh face and dimpled cheek that belie his 35 years. He has also–relative youth aside–clearly been in politics long enough to know how to carry himself gracefully, to make his way through a crowd. He speaks about Social Security reform and tax cuts with a soft southern accent, always projecting ease and modest self-assurance.

Glenn, a native of Columbus, Ga., is a free-marketeer and social conservative, a good fit for this “New Georgia” district (suburban, white collar and upwardly mobile, and heavily Republican). Says Glenn of his political outlook, “I have an inherent distrust of the government’s ability to get it right, particularly with respect to improving lives.” But he also thinks good policy decisions can shape behavior for the better. “One of the greatest policy things we did in this country was welfare reform,” he says, “because it culturally and socially said there is such a thing as right and wrong, and there is an inherent value to hard work–and by the way we’re going to require you to work to get said benefits.” Abortion? Glenn is staunchly against it. Gay marriage? “I think that marriage is the union between a man and a woman and that it’s sacred in nature.”

Glenn and his three Republican opponents will go head to head in the July 20 primary, and in this strongly right-leaning district the winner will almost certainly take the race. Glenn’s campaign says his energy on the trail and efforts to reach out to undecided voters–by their estimates, he’s gotten five times the local media coverage of any of his opponents–will help him next week. Still, observers are predicting a close race.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, writes in an e-mail that “Glenn has a fair-to-good chance to win, though many people believe he is no better than an even bet against [state representative] Lynn Westmoreland, and some observers in the district actually rate Westmoreland the favorite.” The race may come to a run-off, Sabato says, in which case “I’ll be surprised if it isn’t Glenn vs. Westmoreland.”

Glenn concedes that his primary opponents–Westmoreland, state senator Mike Crotts, and Tom Mills–are also strong conservatives and would likely vote the same way he would on many issues. But what they don’t have, he says, are his experience in Washington and extensive political connections there, including at the White House. (Glenn met George W. Bush while working as a student intern on the Bush-Quayle campaign, and later served at the National Economic Council as his special assistant.) Long-time acquaintance and supporter Mary Matalin says Glenn “knows where the levers are” in Washington: “I can’t remember a time I wasn’t impressed with him, and didn’t count on him, most recently in the White House with immense talent and reach. He’s a go-to guy on lots of things.”

Always a conservative, Glenn was introduced to politics at an early age. His father, who worked for Columbus’s first Republican mayor, took young Dylan with him on some of his outreach outings around town. After graduating from Episcopal high school in Virginia and then Davidson College in North Carolina, Glenn went straight to Washington and stayed there for six years before returning to his home state.

During that time, he helped found the Earth Conservation Corps, a White House initiative under the first President Bush that puts kids from the worst parts of D.C. at work on environmental-conservation projects, and was traveling aid in 1996 to vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp–among other things.

Glenn returned to Georgia in 1997, running for Congress in the 2nd congressional district in 1998 and then again in 2000. Though he lost both bids, as the Republican nominee in 2000 he garnered–according to his website–”the highest number of votes ever cast for a Republican” in that district.

Between those unsuccessful but competitive campaigns, Glenn formed the Georgia Economic Development Corporation, which helped start a charter school and provided the curriculum for another. Both schools focus on basic skills and are in poor, heavily minority areas. “There’s nothing special about it,” Glenn says of the school he helped to found. “We didn’t cherry-pick the smart kids. But it’s what can happen if you can get around the bureaucracy and actually make something happen.”

Lawrence Lindsey, who headed the National Economic Council from 2001 to 2002, says Glenn is “hard-working, extremely effective, and knows how to get things done.” In fact, when Lindsey was hiring his staff in 2001, Glenn was the first person he called. “He’s a natural. He knows how and when to compromise without giving up on principle. Sometimes he got the impossible assignments as a result.” Despite two difficult years at the NEC–among other things, Lindsey’s team had to face the economic consequences of 9/11–they managed to get a tax bill through a 50-50 Senate, and prepared a second round of tax cuts for President Bush to propose in early 2003.

Glenn also happens to be black, another factor that has helped make his campaign into more than a local Georgia affair. Some believe a Glenn victory could help the GOP win over more of the black vote both in Georgia and nationwide.

“Dylan’s election will show that we mean opportunity for everyone,” Lindsey says. “If Republicans got between 20 and 25 percent of the black vote in Georgia, the Republican party would completely run the state…. I think that is an important first step toward cementing the Republican party as a majority party across the nation.”

Jim Dyke, communications director for the Republican National Committee and manager of Glenn’s 1998 campaign, says, “There are a number of African Americans ages 18 to 25 who are now registering independent. We think we have an opportunity to win more of the African-American vote, and Dylan is someone who, as a real leader with substantial experience, would help deliver those messages.”

Glenn says he doesn’t feel being black is an important part of his politics. “I grew up in a household where my father said, let race be the other guy’s problem.” But while it may not be something he likes to focus on, “I’m not naïve enough to think that race isn’t a factor in this country and in this race.”

Indeed, he says, “I believe in my heart of hearts that if the Republican party is going to reach out it will have to start electing folks that look like me.” He believes younger blacks are “more open to judging things on their merits,” and more likely to consider voting Republican, than their parents.

“We’ve got a lot of blacks running Republican in Georgia, which I think is a good indicator,” Glenn says. That list includes rags-to-riches entrepreneur and Senate contender Herman Cain, and police deputy Willie Talton, running for the state legislature. “There’s a sense that…we ought to go with the party that best represents our interests,” Glenn says.

And those interests, in his view, are no different from anyone else’s: a simpler, fairer tax code, the freedom to invest in private retirement accounts rather than a failing pay-as-you-go system, and schools that emphasize hard work and basic skills.

If he wins next week, Glenn could be the first black Republican congressman elected from the deep south since Reconstruction, and he would enter a Congress in which, at present, there are no black Republican senators or representatives. Glenn would also be an energetic and well-connected representative, pushing for the kind of economic reforms and strong middle-class values conservatives want to see.

So will Georgia’s 8th district swoon for Glenn this year? We’ll know by this time next week. House or no House come January, his future is certainly bright.


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