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Former Trump administration official to head GOP ticket in November contest against Bishop

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Former Trump administration official to head GOP ticket in November contest against Bishop

Jun 18, 2024 | 7:33 pm ET
By Jill Nolin
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Former Trump administration official to head GOP ticket in November contest against Bishop
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Wayne Johnson, a Macon Republican, was declared the winner by the Associated Press shortly after the polls closed Tuesday. J. Glenn Photography

This was story was updated at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, with the latest. 

A former Trump administration official has won the GOP runoff in Georgia’s 2nd congressional district in southwest Georgia, soundly beating a party rival who is a convicted Jan. 6 rioter.

Wayne Johnson, a Macon Republican, was declared the winner by the Associated Press shortly after the polls closed Tuesday evening. As of 10 p.m., Johnson had about 66% of the vote, according to unofficial results.

Johnson beat Chuck Hand, a construction superintendent who was one of a handful of convicted Jan. 6 rioters running for Congress.

Johnson, who was a senior official for the U.S. Department of Education under former President Donald Trump, will face longtime Congressman Sanford Bishop in November in a Democratic leaning district that includes most of Macon and most of Columbus and bigger cities like Albany.

“What I’m thinking right now is how to get focused on prevailing over Sanford and Joe Biden come this fall, that’s really what’s on my mind,” Johnson said Tuesday night from his watch party at the Fish N’ Pig in Macon.

“But I’m also very respectfully appreciative of the people who trusted me with their votes, and I want to make sure that I do everything in my power not to disappoint.”

Johnson has tried to pitch himself as a more moderate Republican. He is a former Trump administration official, but he is a candidate who has also staked out more progressive positions on issues like student loan forgiveness. He also opposes cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, as has been proposed by congressional Republicans in the new farm bill.

He argues that the ground is ripe in southwest Georgia to peel off more middle-of-the-road voters who have historically voted for Democrats but may have more conservative leanings.

But Johnson is going into the general election knowing he is in for an uphill battle. By his own estimate, he says he will need to win over about 50,000 people to beat Bishop, who has represented the district for 30 years.

The race is not on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of seats it is hoping to flip this election cycle. In 2022, the NRCC targeted Bishop’s seat, but in the end, Bishop handily won reelection by nearly 10 percentage points.

Johnson was the top vote-getter last month with about 45% of the vote, which fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

The race had been a low-key affair until Hand drew national attention for abruptly walking out of an Atlanta Press Club debate just minutes after it started earlier this month.

Hand was also notable for his role in the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol. He pleaded guilty to one count of parading, demonstrating or picketing inside a Capitol building. That was a misdemeanor offense for which he served 20 days in federal prison and six months on probation.

The other candidates in the race criticized Hand for making his Jan. 6 conviction part of his campaign pitch.

Hand did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday night. Johnson said he had not heard from Hand Tuesday evening.

Tuesday’s runoff election was an ultra low turnout affair across the state among the four million registered voters with unsettled races on the ballot. No significant issues were reported.

Philip Kurland and his wife arrived at their Plains voting precinct shortly after the polls opened Tuesday morning, but they were unable to cast ballots with Dominion Voting Systems electronic ballot marking machines 

Kurland said he waited about 40 minutes at the polls to see if the machines would become available but left and returned a couple hours later after the voting machines were working.

“It was very confusing and no slight to the workers – they were doing the best they could – but nothing seemed to me to be working right,” the 72-year-old told the Georgia Recorder

Mike Hassinger, spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, said that Sumter County election workers did not have the keys needed to start the Dominion Voting Systems electronic ballot marking machines so some voters used emergency paper ballots in the meantime.

Senior reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.