Congressman Hank Johnson faces possible primary challenge


Cynthia McKinneyGo to fullsize image

May 09, 2007
Rep. Hank Johnson’s (D-Ga.) mild-mannered style will never be mistaken for that of his outspoken predecessor, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D). But that doesn’t mean fellow Democrats are going to let him cruise to a second term without another heated primary.Democrats in the Atlanta area say Johnson is keenly aware that McKinney’s departure has opened a door to any number of ambitious would-be members of Congress. Johnson, wary of pronouncing himself reelected, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that he’s hearing several names.

Anti-McKinney Democrats largely coalesced behind Johnson last year to knock off McKinney for the second time in the last three cycles. Now some of them — and possibly McKinney — apparently have turned their eyes on the quiet freshman as well.

“He’s certainly hearing rumors,” Johnson spokeswoman Deb McGhee Speights said. “But he wouldn’t be surprised, certainly, at this point if there is a challenger.”

Pervasive speculation has it that DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones will drop his U.S. Senate bid to enter the race, and Democrats are not counting out repeat bids by McKinney or former Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.). Majette beat McKinney in 2002 but vacated the seat for a failed bid for Senate in 2004, at which point McKinney retook her old seat. Jones’s campaign dismissed the rumors and spoke highly of Johnson. But many Democrats are dumbfounded by Jones’s flirtation with running for Senate.

Jones, who has said he is running but is still technically in an exploratory phase, raised a meager $18,000 in the first quarter and has a spotty personal history that might be hard to overcome statewide. At the same time, he has crossover appeal because he is conservative and black.

A Strategic Vision poll from last month showed current Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) up 57–29 in a head-to-head match-up.

As a black Democrat in Georgia, Jones figures to have a strong shot at the Democratic nomination and could scare off other candidates, according to Georgia political operatives and observers.

Atlanta Democratic consultant Angelo Fuster, who has worked for Jones in the past, said people underestimate Jones at their own peril, and Johnson surely wouldn’t.

“I think that [Johnson] has some concerns that Vernon is going to run against him,” Fuster said. “The general consensus is that Hank would have a difficult competition if Vernon decided to run for the House.”

University of Georgia political science Professor Charles Bullock said Jones, who is term-limited in his current job at the end of 2008, is much better known than Johnson is.

Before entering Congress, Johnson served as a DeKalb commissioner beneath Jones.

“That would certainly be a much more winnable seat for him,” Bullock said. “There was some thought when McKinney was in there that he might run against her once his term was up. So this is not novel speculation that he might run in the 4th district.”

Jones spokesman Jamie Grey said the speculation is unfounded and based on race, but he also suggested Jones would have beaten both Johnson and McKinney.

“You’re hearing that from some naysayers and some ne’er-do-wells that really want to look for a person of a different hue to run under the Democratic banner for the Senate,” Grey said. “If Vernon wanted to be the congressman from the 4th congressional district, he would be it now.”

Grey also said any of the other names being mentioned likely would not be able to beat Johnson.

Johnson won in 2006 partially thanks to the backlash from McKinney’s dust-up with a U.S. Capitol Police officer. The officer didn’t recognize her and tried to make her go through a security check, from which members are exempt.

Johnson gained a primary runoff with McKinney and defeated her 59–41 in August. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and he went on to sail through the general election.

Democrats say they believe McKinney might be interested in running for her old seat now that another year has passed since the event. McKinney has remained a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq and has been giving speeches, including at a peace conference in Malaysia in February where President Bush was labeled a “war criminal.”

Johnson hesitated to support the Iraq war supplemental last month, but eventually decided to join Democrats. Speights said though Johnson wants the troops out soon, it was the best option and Johnson wasn’t concerned about a primary challenge from the left.

McKinney, for her part, tried to position herself toward the end of the 2006 runoff as the No. 1 opponent of Bush.
She has been working to retire a $60,000 campaign debt and has updated her website in recent months to reflect her progress. She’s about one-sixth of the way there, according to the site.

Majette ran for state school superintendent in 2006 after losing her Senate bid and again lost by a wide margin. Like Johnson did in 2006, she won in 2002 with an assist from McKinney’s antics.

McKinney and Majette could not be reached for comment.

DeKalb County Commissioner Burrell Ellis said McKinney loyalists have rallied around Johnson in the early going and that he looks ready if a challenge heads his way.

“I think he’s now making his own mark and looking strong,” Ellis said.

10 thoughts on “Congressman Hank Johnson faces possible primary challenge

  1. rikyrah

    Is Shirley Franklin not interested?

    I’d love to have Cynthia McKinney back, raising serious heck…LOL

  2. rikyrah,

    Not that it matters in congressional races, but Shirley don’t live in the district. Anybody can run, the only problem is that Hank Johnson is not a conservative like Denise Majette was. His votes track closely with Cynthia’s, he just differs with her on Israel. Vernon Jones, on the other hand, is barely a Democrat having voted at least once for Bush. I don’t know what the F*** his deal is. I can’t stand Hank, but Vernon ain’t no better.

  3. I saw that, and I have to laugh at Denise Majette for abandoning the Congressional seat that AIPAC helped her win. Her run for the Senate was considered by AIPAC as a go “Cheney” yourself movement, and they demanded their campaign money back from Ms. Majette.

    She figured out she’d been used.

    And it appears that Hank Johnson is learning the lesson, too.

    The problem is, in Georgia, any party affiliation can vote in the primary – and in 2004, the ReThugs were in disarray, and that allowed Cynthia to get her seat back.

    They were ready for her in 2006, and gave their money to Hank Johnson.

    Majette and Johnson were tools for AIPAC to force McKinney out of Congress because she was too loud on America’s support for Israel and dissing Palestine. AIPAC wants a House Negro in that seat – McKinney’s a Field Negress all the way.

    And Majette was a registered ReThug until AIPAC convinced her to switch party affiliation in order to challenge McKinney in 2002.

    When will we learn not to get caught up in the White Man’s hype to play us off against one another to further their own agendas? If Hank Johnson doesn’t know he’s AIPAC’s water toter, he does now.

    And if DeKalb county wants McKinney back, she gets the right to look them in the eye and ask “Why the hell should I run again when you’ve kicked me out twice?”

    Pass the popcorn on this one. And stay tuned for the CBC Monitor Report Card in September. We will be on Hank Johnson like a fly on shit regarding his voting record:

  4. Cliff

    Cynthia McKinney please remind me of her incident. Did she get on her knees and say “Please sah I does anythang ya say sah, I’s bowin, I’s bowin I’s bowin”, or did she she stan up for herself and her people?

  5. Cliff- from what I recall she took off her shoe and beat a couple boys in blue up and down with it while reminding them “You better recognize me next time”. For some reason this didn’t sit well with the establishment types and the more docile elements of her constituency.

    Personally, I would like to see 535 Cynthia McKinneys in Congress.

  6. Rob

    I am not from Georgia so take this for what you will:

    Cynthia McKinney is an embarrassment, pure and simple.

    Forget the Capitol Hill incident, remember her bizzare concession speech? That was actually the hilight as members of her campaign assaulted press members and made anti-semetic statements.

    And could someone explain what is wrong with Hank Johnson? He may be low key but his voting record has been consistantly liberal and he has the right idea on Iraq.

    It is foolish to underestimate McKinney’s campaign skills but she is all noise and nothing else.

    Like I said, I am not from Georgia so there may be more that I am missing. Thank you for your time.

  7. ron gilliam

    The African-American community continues to be influenced by outside forces that do not have its best interests in mind. Let’s start with AIPAC, who is a major contributor to Black candidates. It’s almost impossible to get elected without their support. Second, in GA, where crossover voting is permitted in primaries-although ruled unconstitutional in Washington and CA-Republicans are allowed to vote the Democrat ticket, thus influencing the outcome of the Dem slate. So much for GA democracy. What’s even worse, constituents can’t see through the smoke screen.

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