By JEFF AMY – Associated Press
MCDONOUGH, Ga. (AP) — Nearly a month after his favorite candidate for governor in Georgia was beaten by more than 50 points, former President Donald Trump has the opportunity next week to demonstrate that he still has a certain influence on this former republican stronghold.
A runoff election for a U.S. House seat east of Atlanta pits Trump-backed Vernon Jones against Mike Collins, the son of a former congressman.
The winner will advance to November’s general election against the Democratic nominee, also to be decided in the second round to be held on Tuesday. The Jones-Collins winner will be the big favorite in that drawn district to elect a Republican. With that in mind, Jones and Collins have pledged allegiance to Trump, who remains popular among party voters.
Jones, a bombastic attention-seeking presence with a long trail of enemies, likes to call himself the “Black Donald Trump.” Collins, who owns a trucking business, looks a lot like Trump too, posing as a foreign businessman as he drives an 18-wheeler for campaign appearances.
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But it is Jones who has Trump’s official backing, something he constantly reminds the public of.
“I’m Trump-approved, I’m Trump-trustworthy, and I’m Trump-approved,” Jones told Republicans in suburban Atlanta’s Henry County at McDonough last week. “I don’t have to pretend I’m with President Trump. … I’ve stood my ground for President Trump. And I’m not backing down from President Trump.
Collins narrowly led Jones in the eight-candidate primary on May 24. But none crossed the 50% threshold necessary to avoid a second round. About 112,000 people participated in the primary, but turnout will likely be much lower next week when Republicans don’t have a statewide ballot.
Jones rose to prominence in Republican circles as a lifelong Democrat who endorsed Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. He backed Trump’s bogus voter fraud allegations and said, “I left the plantation”, when he changed parties in 2021.
He jumped into the race for Congress in a remote district of DeKalb County, where Jones had long been in power, after Trump asked him to drop his bid for governor. Trump was trying unsuccessfully to pave the way for the nomination of former US Senator David Perdue, who was ousted by incumbent Governor Brian Kemp. As part of the deal, Trump endorsed Jones for Congress.
As DeKalb County CEO-elect, Jones faced investigations into an expensive security detail, and a woman accused Jones of raping her in late 2004. She dropped the charges, but did not s is never retracted. Jones said the sexual encounter was consensual.
Collins handed out rape whistles to keep the allegation fresh. On Tuesday, Jones filed a police report alleging Collins was encouraging violence against him after Collins tweeted a picture of a gun and the campaign’s anti-Jones whistle.
Jones oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in capital projects as CEO, but a special grand jury later alleged he was part of an endemic culture of “incompetence, favoritism, fraud and of cronyism”. He then lost races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and County Sheriff.
“Vernon Jones is a crook,” Collins said during a June 6 debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.
Jones responded with a television commercial featuring voters under the slogan “I trust Vernon”. He also criticized Collins for loaning his campaign $465,000 after the federal government canceled $920,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans to his private trucking company. There’s nothing unusual about the loans being forgiven, but Jones says Collins did pour federal money into his campaign. Collins denies doing so, saying it helped him keep people employed.
“He’s the crook,” Jones said during the debate. “He stole taxpayers’ hard-earned money.”
Jones also calls Collins a “RINO,” or Republican in name only, saying Collins sent a letter during a failed congressional bid in 2014 asking Democrats to vote for him. Collins calls this claim a “lie” and a “hit job.” ”
The other six primary candidates who did not make the runoff endorsed Collins, the son of former U.S. Representative Mac Collins, who died in 2018.
Other officials who have endorsed Collins include 11 county sheriffs and 17 state legislators. State Sen. Brian Strickland, a Republican from McDonough, said he supported Collins in part because Jones was ineffective in the legislature and had a difficult relationship with other lawmakers.
“I don’t think he’ll be effective,” Strickland said. “I think Vernon is a show. We know that from working with him in the legislature.
Jones is not without significant support, however. Besides Trump, the National Rifle Association gave Jones the green light on Collins. And some party activists give it good reviews.
“I love his story. I love his fight. I love his tenacity,” said Ortavia Taylor of Stockbridge, who attended the Henry County reunion.
Jones pushed a far-fetched plan to install Trump as Speaker of the United States House and then impeach, convict and remove President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris from office. That, in theory, would put Trump in a position to return to the White House because the Speaker of the House is trailing the Vice President in line for the presidency.
He embraced other conspiracies, including the false claim that Georgia’s election was stolen from Trump, saying Congress should investigate. The results in Georgia were certified after a trio of recounts, including one partially done by hand. They all claimed Biden victory.
Jones hosted screenings of “2000 Mules,” a film that claims to use cellphone location data to show that Democratic operatives were paid to illegally collect and deposit ballots. Experts say the claims made in the film are fatally flawed.
Collins also showed his support for such claims by attending a screening, but the issue figured less prominently in his campaign.
There are few other political differences between the candidates, although Jones has tried to position himself as even more anti-abortion and even more pro-guns than his opponent.
While Jones has Trump’s endorsement, Collins argues that with his underdog positioning, he’s Trump enough. He told Henry County Republicans they should pick him “if you’re looking for someone who is really, shamelessly pro-Trump, an America First agenda candidate, die-hard conservative, outsider who was never elected in my life.”
This story has been corrected to remove reference that Vernon Jones had never lived in the Congressional District.
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