Bishop, West debate for Georgia's only competitive U.S. House race
Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop and his Republican challenger Chris West both shared their visions for improving quality of life in Southwest Georgia in an Atlanta Press Club debate Sunday.
Bishop, the current longest-serving member of Georgia's congressional delegation, says his nearly three decades in Congress gives him the experience and relationships to deliver funding and services for what is one of the 10 poorest House districts in the country.
"I would think that the 30 years that I have been honored to serve with the people of the 2nd Congressional District is an asset, because I've had 30 years to be able to use the process to improve the people's lives through jobs and a stronger economy, better education, safe communities, a clean environment, affordable, accessible health care, and a strong national defense," he said. "I believe that I have done that, I've delivered and I believe I've done it well."
Chris West, a Thomasville attorney and member of the Georgia National Guard, argued that the district needs new leadership with a fresh conservative perspective on tackling issues like inflation.
"Apparently, he's been in Washington so long that he doesn't recognize how bad it is in our district," West said. "High inflation, high gas prices — our farmers, they're getting crushed. Sanford has voted 100% of the time with Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi to pass policies that have caused this."
Bishop is a more moderate member of the Blue Dog Democrat coalition and is centering his reelection campaign around specific accomplishments for the district dominated by agriculture and military-related jobs.
"Just in one year, we were able to generate 29,000 jobs just in the Fort Benning area," he said. "We were able to do $2.5 billion in military construction and bring over 20,000 civilian and military personnel there. We also supported the Marine base in Albany, same thing. And we were able to support Robins Air Force base, where my opponent does his training."
After Republican-led redistricting, Georgia's 2nd Congressional District is the only House race that is remotely competitive, though Bishop is favored to win. West's campaign has zeroed in on appealing to conservative white farmers that have crossed over to support Bishop in years past, as well as targeting economically disadvantaged communities spread throughout the region and tying their situation to a Democratic-controlled Congress.
"Many communities across our district have been left behind under Sanford's leadership, and it's really unfortunate," West said in the debate. "I anticipate [bringing] some some good jobs in the future, some well-paying jobs so that we don't have to have folks that live on the Alabama line going over to Alabama for a job or Florida going over into Florida, I'd like to keep those jobs here."
Though much of the race has focused on issues localized to the district like rising agriculture costs and boosting infrastructure in the mostly rural district, Bishop used the debate to highlight West's views on abortion. West previously said he supported a ban with no exceptions but deflected during the debate to say there are no laws on the books currently that do not take into account the life of the mother.
West also used an ongoing ethics investigation into the Bishop’s use of funds to paint him as a Washington insider who needed to be sent home. A report found Bishop's campaign committee paid for things like golf club memberships and gas while a taxpayer-funded account paid for holiday parties, and an investigation is ongoing.
"What I can tell you is this: we've got folks in Congress who are not being good stewards with the peoples' money," West said. "Those are our funds, those are our monies, and we deserve ethics from our members of Congress."
Bishop said he repaid money out of pocket to cover the end-of-year congressional funds that were allegedly used to pay for holiday parties in his district "to avoid any argument."
"When I learned that there were some compliance issues with my campaign, I was disturbed and I took immediate action to change course, including by offering full cooperation for review," Bishop said in response. "Ethics is important. Transparency is important. And I fully support the highest standards of conduct for members of Congress."
West also refused to directly say if he thought President Joe Biden won Georgia's votes in the 2020 election.