The 11th District includes a swath of Cobb running from Smyrna through Acworth, along with northwest Atlanta and all of Cherokee and Bartow counties.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) is leaving the seat to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Republican candidates for the district include Bob Barr, perhaps the most well-known entry with eight previous years in Congress and a 2008 run for president as a Libertarian. State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Buckhead) and former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) continued the trickle-down effect of the open Senate seat by leaving their posts to run.
Tricia Pridemore of Marietta, former executive director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, is also running. Candidates Larry Mrozinski and Allan Levene did not attend the debate.
Each touted their qualifications for the seat and their endorsements from various political groups. The debate was moderated by syndicated columnist Dick Yarbrough and audience members also were allowed to ask questions.
On Dobbins Air Force Base
One question asked by Yarbrough is what can be done to protect Dobbins Air Force Base and Lockheed Martin from Base Realignment and Closure, a process that has closed more than 350 military bases since 1989.
Yarbrough said Dobbins may be the biggest issue facing the district.
While all candidates agreed the base is a tremendous asset to Cobb County and the 11th district, they had different takes on strategies to keep the base open.
“Dobbins represents over $1 billion in Cobb County alone,” Pridemore said. “It would be devastating for us to lose Dobbins.”
Pridemore said she’s part of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s BRAC readiness task force.
She said efforts need to be made to add new offerings to the base, which would expand it and also make it more difficult to shut down.
Loudermilk said aviation is close to his heart because he is part owner of an aviation flight school. He is also an Air Force veteran.
“America still produces the highest military technology in the world and we’re still the envy of the entire world,” he said.
He said Lockheed not only is important to the local economy, but it also is important to national defense strategy and said he’d work hard to keep bases open in Georgia, if elected.
Lindsey brought up what he says is a shrinking U.S. Air Force.
“We have a smaller Air Force today and an older Air Force in terms of planes in operation than at any time since the Air Force was created in 1947,” he said. “We do have those out there who wish to kill us and wish to destroy our way of life here.”
Lindsay talked about the need to build relationships and “cross the aisle” to get things done in office, and touted his abilities to do so when he served in the state legislature.
Barr said Dobbins actually was on a BRAC hit list in the 1990s, when he was in Congress. He said
Georgia had a strong delegation at the time — including House Speaker Newt Gingrich — that was able to keep the base open.
Barr said he’d work hard to keep the base open in the future as he did during his previous congressional stint.
“We know that BRAC is coming,” Barr said. “It’s a possibility Dobbins will be on the list.”
On Republican ‘branding’
An audience member brought up the subject of what he called a branding problem in the Republican Party.
Answering first, Lindsey talked about what he calls “gateway issues” that allow the party to reach a new audience, and again brought up his experience under the Gold Dome in Atlanta.
Namely, these issues included education reform and school choice, human trafficking and criminal justice reform.
Barr said Republicans have a positive and powerful message, but sometimes “come in second in articulating it.”
He said the party should shun words like “entitlement” in favor of words like “opportunity” and conduct hearings in local communities, rather than Washington, D.C.
Pridemore, the only woman running for the office, said she understands some of the branding issues faced by the party.
“I take more knocks from non-Republican women than from Republican women,” she said. Pridemore touted America as the land of opportunity, and used her status as the first member of her family to graduate from college as an example.
Loudermilk also talked about the need for relationship building as well, and said the Republican Party needs to focus more on its cause than its circumstances.
The Republican primary will be decided May 20. No Democrats are running in the heavily conservative district, so the GOP primary winner will win the seat for the next two years.