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Running on the Boring Flank Against Marjorie Taylor Greene
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Running on the Boring Flank Against Marjorie Taylor Greene

Jennifer Strahan campaigns to unseat the controversial lawmaker on a platform of competence over celebrity.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, freshman congresswoman from Georgia, occupies a unique position in Republican politics. Outside the Capitol, she’s arguably one of the nation’s most prominent Republicans: a rabid ally of former president Donald Trump, a star of the right-wing media circuit, a figure whose endorsement has been sought nationwide by aspiring politicos trying to burnish their own MAGA-mania bona fides. Inside the building, meanwhile, there’s arguably not a single representative with less actual power: She sits on no committees, and her history of conspiracy theories, promotion of violence, and bizarre antics around the House have left her without legislative allies beyond her fellow rabble-rousers in the House Freedom Caucus.

It’s the former element—her right-wing notoriety—that’s led many to assume Greene will cruise to reelection this year in Georgia’s 14th District, which remains heavily Republican despite recent redistricting. But the latter element may end up causing her trouble in her primary—where another Republican, Jennifer Strahan, is mounting a surprisingly strong challenge.

It’s the first foray into politics for Strahan, a Cobb County resident who since 2017 has run a health care consulting business that contracts with hospitals and health systems. She launched her congressional bid last September, earning some attention in conservative media. But her campaign really entered the spotlight last month after Greene spoke at a conference helmed by white nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes in Florida. The move earned swift denunciations from a chorus of elected Republicans and figures in conservative media, many of whom put forward Strahan’s name as the likeliest candidate to upset her; Erick Erickson, the prominent Georgia-based conservative radio host, dubbed her “Marjorie with a brain.”

Strahan herself denounced Greene’s appearance at the conference in a statement: “Aligning herself with the statements made by Mr. Fuentes and his organization is incredibly sad, but not surprising. Rep. Greene has continually shown us this is who she is and what she stands for. … Georgia’s 14th Congressional District and its constituents are not represented by her.”

For the most part, however, Strahan steers clear of dwelling on Greene’s wilder moments. In a campaign video released last September, she introduced herself as a “small business owner, a Christian, a wife, a mother … and a no-nonsense conservative” who is “not a politician or a celebrity.”

Lots of would-be politicians are eager to note that they’re not politicians, of course, but for Strahan it’s that last bit that forms the centerpiece of her pitch to voters in her district. She’s not trying to unseat Greene by running to her middle, or even by trying to convince voters that Greene is on a political fringe. In fact, asked whether there were any places in which she disagreed with Greene on policy, Strahan demurred: “I mean, we’re running in a Republican primary, right? I’m conservative. I think there is no doubt that there is a lot of overlap between, you know, our beliefs. I think the core differentiation is effectiveness.”

Effectiveness rather than celebrity—that’s the pitch. It isn’t just that Marjorie Taylor Greene has a knack for attracting controversy, Strahan argues—it’s that her attention-seeking comes at the expense of the nitty-gritty work of actually representing her district, from relatively boring committee work to basic constituent services.

“Representative Greene is literally throwing more bombs on the Republican side than she is on the Democrat side,” Strahan said. “That’s a problem. We have very progressive agenda items that are being pushed down. We are seeing those policies come through. She’s not stopping them, right? She’s not on committees. We’ve got an administration that is infringing on our constitutional freedoms, we have significant problems across our country, and we need a serious representative who’s willing to stand up and fight for our values and our beliefs.”

It’s not exactly a message calibrated to make Greene’s biggest national detractors stand up and cheer, of course. But it might be the one likeliest to make Strahan immune to Greene’s likely return punch—that, like the rest of Greene’s right-wing critics, she’s simply a RINO who’s making common cause with Democrats, journalists, Communists, and other enemies of America.

Greene’s spokesman Nick Dyer disputed the notion that not being on committees has prevented Greene from working against progressive legislation, pointing to Greene’s move last March to force a roll-call vote on an amendment to a voting bill restoring voting rights to felons that had passed on the floor via voice vote. “Congresswoman Greene, precisely because she wasn’t burdened with committees, was able to camp out on the House floor and stop this piece of Communist legislation,” Dyer told The Dispatch.

“My impression is [Strahan] is focusing on the district and, you know, having a very clear contrast that ‘I’m going to be a substantive workhorse, not a show horse,” one former Republican congresswoman told The Dispatch. “[Greene] is just becoming a tiresome embarrassment. And when you know you can get a normal conservative Republican … It shouldn’t be a Trump/anti-Trump sort of battle there. What it really is is, you know, you’re just an embarrassment to the state.”

In our conversation, Strahan described her decision to get involved in politics in religious terms: “I am a Christian, evangelical Christian, really believe in everything I do I want to be in the will of God. And just started feeling a pull to do more in my relationship with God. And then eventually just started feeling direction specifically to politics. And so that kind of slowly evolved—last summer I started really investigating this pathway and God just opened up the right doors, and here we are.”

Would it still have been that way if she’d been happy with the performance of the incumbent? “I can’t speculate on what the world would’ve, should’ve, could’ve looked like. But I can tell you that I felt a personal calling, a personal pull to run.”

On the issues, Strahan hews close to what you might call the traditionalist wing of Trump’s Republican Party—someone who talks about supporting the MAGA agenda using the vocabulary of shrinking the government and promoting free markets.

On Russia’s recent attack against Ukraine: “It’s an attack on democracy, it’s an attack on humanity, and literally killing thousands of people … This is why it’s so important to have a strong leader in the White House, this is why it’s important to maintain the U.S. as a global superpower and that our adversaries recognize who we are and what we stand for.”

On some Republicans’ recent flirtation with tax-and-spend policies like an expanded child tax allowance: “I think more government’s never the answer … I think we do need to support families, I think we do need to support people getting back to work, but I don’t think you do that through government handouts.”

One substantial difference between Strahan and Greene emerged over the course of our conversation, but I had to go digging for it. Greene has long been a proponent of Trump-style conspiracies about the 2020 election. “I know we’re not a blue state,” she said on One America News the day before Biden’s inauguration last year. “I know for a fact that President Trump won here in Georgia. I feel it 1,000 percent.”

By contrast, Strahan didn’t seem eager to enter the minefield of 2020 discussion at all. “I think we had, as has been proven, we had a lot of issues in our election, right? That’s not uncommon. Anytime you have a system that large, you’re gonna have problems in process. And that is critical for us to address. … There’s a lot of mistrust in our system today across the board from individuals.”

Strahan then pivoted to talk about the importance of getting out the Republican vote and passing policies like voter ID requirements. Pressed as to whether Georgia’s Republican officials had carried out a fair election with reliable results in 2020, she said only: “Again, I think we had issues, but I do believe that Joe Biden is our current president. I’m not happy with him, his agenda and the policies he’s pushing out, I’m as upset as everyone else. But I think the way we combat that is we address the problems, which we’re starting to do—we’re seeing that with Georgia—and we get out and vote.”

Leave aside for now the unpleasant fact that saying “the 2020 vote was reliably counted” apparently remains a third rail in Republican primary politics. Could Strahan win?

There’s no question it’s an uphill climb. Exploitable weakness or not, one thing national celebrity unquestionably does for a politician is help build a war chest; over the course of 2021, Greene’s campaign pulled in about $7 million in donations, ending with roughly half that still on hand. That notoriety was a fundraising bonanza for Greene’s opponents, too—on the other side of the aisle. “All but a small share of that loot [$6.5 million] was raised by Democrats, who have very little chance of winning in one of the reddest districts anywhere,” Intelligencer reported this week. “And the Republican with the best chance of unseating Greene in the GOP primary barely has two dimes to run together.” (Strahan’s campaign says its fundraising fortunes have improved since 2021, which it ended with about $60,000 cash on hand, but did not provide specific numbers.)

As it happens, there’s one recent example of a pitch like Strahan’s working in a Republican primary: In 2020, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra toppled incumbent Rep. Steve King, who had recently been stripped of his own committee assignments after wondering aloud to a reporter when language of “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization” had become “offensive.” In his campaign, Feenstra focused not on King’s past incendiary comments but on the inability of a marooned and ostracized lawmaker to capably serve his district. But Feenstra also enjoyed other advantages: He outraised King heavily, for one, and was endorsed by a number of prominent Republican groups.

Then again, at that time King had been a fixture of Iowa politics for decades, whereas Greene has represented her district for only two years. 

In a January poll of 450 GOP primary voters in the district done by a Republican group and obtained by Jewish Insider, only 30 percent said they’d support Strahan if the election were held that day, while 60 percent said they’d back Greene. But the poll found that comfortable margin shrank to a statistical tie after pollsters mentioned some of Greene’s past controversial comments. A Republican consultant told Jewish Insider the poll had been commissioned by “a group of Georgia Republicans who want to show” the possibility of a conservative alternative to Greene.

Of course, that’s the puzzle Strahan needs to solve—plenty of Republican voters don’t agree with Greene’s most out-there beliefs and statements, but to accuse a fellow Republican of making bigoted remarks is to trigger immediate suspicion in the contemporary conservative id that you’re going along with Democrat/media smears—a RINO move if ever there was one. Which brings us back again to the elevator pitch of competence over celebrity. We’ll find out how strong a market there is for it on May 24.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.