Democratic congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia became an internet sensation last month by suggesting, on camera during a congressional hearing, that the island of Guam could “tip over and capsize” due to overpopulation. For Johnson, it was a PR disaster.
For Liz Carter, a Republican businesswoman who is running against Johnson this year in what traditionally has been a troubled and reliably Democratic district (firebrand conspiracist Cynthia McKinney once held the seat), it’s been a political blessing. Dollars have poured in, including from Guam. “Just wanted to let you know we’re dry side up,” said a note attached to one contribution.
“That was a classic of all time,” Carter, 40, told The Daily Caller. “It is very, very embarrassing to think that we had Cynthia McKinney, and now we have Hank Johnson, who thinks Guam is going to tip over.”
Yet it’s unlikely to be an easy race. Carter is a white Republican running in a heavily black, strongly Democratic district. Johnson ran unopposed last cycle, and came away with 99 percent of the vote. Asked Carter’s chances of winning this year, David Wasserman, Cook Political Report House races editor, simply responded, “zero.”
Carter, of course, disagrees. “This is the year. If ever a year that district 4 could be won by a conservative, this is it,” Carter said at the beginning of the interview, as if she anticipated the obligatory question on whether she really thought she could win. Her reasoning: Even though past election results show the district to be 60 percent Democratic, surveys commissioned by her campaign show what she calls a “huge shift” of Democrats becoming independents. .
She’s also counting on help from her opponent, one of only two Buddhists in Congress. When Johnson made his Guam comments earlier this month, Carter said she initially thought someone was playing an April Fools Joke on her.
“We don’t anticipate” the island flipping over, came the dry response from Adm. Robert Willard, who commands the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, during the now-infamous congressional hearing. Johnson’s office later claimed he’d used the word “capsize” metaphorically. But Carter’s campaign sent around a media packet containing what she said was a pattern of unintelligent comments on his part.
Some of those greatest hits include:
— Johnson claiming “we will have people with white hoods running through the countryside again” if Rep. Joe Wilson wasn’t censured for his “you lie” remark to President Obama during the State of the Union address last year.
— Giving an “anatomy lesson” while discussing “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” during a committee meeting:
“If you were to cut people open to dissect them after you looked at them, you would see they got eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, legs, two legs, two arms. They have — you go inside — I’m not gonna talk about what else I can see from the outside. You go inside. Everyone’s got a brain, thyroid, a heart that hurts when you get discriminated against. Everybody’s got, you know, an intestinal system, respiratory system — we’re all the same people. Regardless of the color, regardless of nationality, regardless of sexual identity. That’s just a basic fact.”
Out on the campaign trail, Carter said she spends her days canvassing door-to-door and meeting with groups like Morehouse College and even the NAACP. She’s spoken at Atlanta tea party events, where she said she met a number of black supporters who asked to volunteer on her campaign.
The biggest concern in the district is unemployment. “We’ve been hit very hard,” she says, noting that illegal immigration has made it more difficult for residents — especially African-Americans — to find work. Carter said she thinks Johnson is soft on immigration, something she thinks could be the “nail in his coffin for November.”
Perhaps now’s a perfect storm. Carter reiterated over and over again that now is the time for her to have any real shot at winning. “This is not the year that’s about race, politics or anything else, this is the year of the individual,” she said.