A first-time candidate and the most formidable of Greene’s five primary opponents, Strahan has the backing of the Republican Jewish Coalition PAC and the PACs of some major local and national businesses, including UPS and International Paper. VIEW PAC – the leading organization dedicated to recruiting and electing Republican women to Congress – is opposing an incumbent for the first time by endorsing Strahan against Greene.
VIEW PAC’s independent expenditure arm has been mostly alone in making small investments in mail and digital advertising. Some Republicans in Congress have been helpful to Strahan behind the scenes, but few will go public.
And even many of the GOP voters whom CNN met in the 14th Congressional District who had qualms about Greene – “I like her politics but not her demeanor” was a frequent refrain – had not heard of the Republicans running against her for this northwest Georgia seat.
One business owner, who had trepidatiously put a Strahan sign in her shop window, said Strahan would be more effective in Washington but requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation – specifically the fear of receiving a threatening voicemail from the congresswoman.
“My stomach is churning just talking to you,” the shop owner said.
Greene’s campaign did not respond to requests for an interview.
‘Joe Biden is our President’
The owner of a health care consulting company, Strahan often introduces herself to voters as the mom of a son, two dogs and a tortoise. At a recent tele-town hall, she told participants the district needs someone who’s not a “social media celebrity,” a not-so-subtle jab at the congresswoman.
Strahan’s most dedicated supporters crave that contrast. “Our current representative is everything left left Trump to be in that she’s just ineffective and loud,” said 39-year-old Josh Brown of Rockmart, who recognized Strahan at a local coffee shop and stopped her to say hello. She’s enthusiastic about her candidacy, calling her “mature and resolved.”
CNN has reached out to McCarthy’s political team.
For the leadership of VIEW PAC, taking Greene on is about more than just the 14th District – it’s also about the reputation of other Republican women in the House.
“It’s unfortunate that in 2020, we elected some really tremendous Republican women and the only one people talk about is the only one who has no business being in Congress,” the group’s executive director, Julie Conway, told CNN.
Strahan is critical of many of Greene’s controversial comments, including about Russia and Ukraine, saying she recognizes that “Russia is the aggressor.” But when it comes to conservative policy, Strahan said there’s a lot of “overlap” with their positions.
Strahan praised Trump’s policies – particularly the 2017 tax law – but she wouldn’t commit to supporting him for the Republican nomination in 2024. “If he’s our nominee, I would support him,” she said twice when asked whether she’d back him in a primary.
At a Capitol Hill fundraiser for Strahan last month, Cassidy framed the race as a battle for the future of the GOP – and the country. Romney’s leadership PAC has also donated to Strahan’s campaign.
A strong base for Greene
Trump held one of his final rallies of 2020 in Rome – a testament to his popularity in this part of the state.
And while Greene’s outspokenness seems to have turned some voters off, for her supporters, it’s exactly what they like about her and Trump – reflecting a burgeoning divide over whether elected officials should work within traditional norms or blow them up.
“They hate her so I like,” 66-year-old Steve Walker said of Greene as he walked out of the local Crossfit gym after his Friday morning workout and headed for his pickup truck.
Who are “they”? “People in charge up there,” Walker said. He’d already voted early for the congresswoman, a former Crossfit gym owner who’s been known to frequent this location.
“I love her because she’s bold,” said 55-year-old Audrey Burch, who was playing with her grandson in a downtown fountain. “Most everything she has said I agree with.”
And Stephanie Howard, a 56-year-old from nearby Chattooga County, said she’d heard some controversial things Greene had said but it didn’t bother her.
“I like that she voices her opinion,” Howard said as she loaded groceries into her SUV at an Ingles supermarket in Summerville, about 30 miles northwest of Rome.
Looking for an alternative
But from behind the counter at Dogwood Books, Kenneth Studdard can see across Broad Street to the popular Harvest Moon Cafe, where Greene sometimes lunches when she’s back in Rome.
A 56-year-old Republican, Studdard has opposed Greene, who he said “makes everything a circus,” since before the 2020 election, when he backed local neurosurgeon John Cowan in the GOP primary.
Sporting an orange “I’m a Georgia voter” sticker, Studdard said he had cast his ballot earlier that day for Strahan, even if he recognizes how hard it will be to unseat an incumbent.
“If you’re Strahan, you’re trying to do two things: Hold her under 50 (percent) and come in second,” said longtime Georgia Republican strategist Chip Lake, referring to the state’s runoff rule, which requires surpassing 50% of the vote to win the primary outright.
“If they’d given Strahan all the money Flowers has, this would be a completely different conversation,” Lake said. (Strahan raised $ 392,000 through May 4, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, compared with $ 11.9 million for Greene.)
Among a trio of polo-clad businessmen strolling down Broad Street during lunchtime, two had voted for Strahan in the GOP primary the day before, while one had voted in the Democratic primary.
Bob Finnell, the Democratic primary voter, was an aide to Republican Sen. Mack Mattingly, who served a single term in the 1980s. Finnell isn’t pleased with the direction of the GOP – or the district. He suggested, only half-jokingly, that the only way to beat Greene would be for a candidate to film a TV ad of themselves aggressively pretending to stop immigrants from crossing state lines.
Neither Republican voter thought Greene would lose the primary. “Slim to none” was how the 34-year-old Collin Doss described Strahan’s chances.
His father, David Doss, said he had thought the 2020 primary runoff between Greene and Cowan would not be close.
“I was right,” he said, but he got the winner wrong: It was Greene who ended up defeating Cowan by 14 points.
Still, he thinks – or hopes – this year’s race against Strahan will be closer.