You won’t see their names on the ballot, but five-year U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who represents northeast Georgia in Congress, does have opposition in his bid to return to the House of Representatives.
Broun is facing one legitimately qualified write-in candidate, Brian Russell Brown of Augusta, in Tuesday balloting.
Also, his recent remarks at a sportsmen’s banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, in which he decried evolution, embryology and the “big bang” theory of the universe’s origin as “lies straight from the pit of hell,” have made him the target of a campaign urging voters to write in Charles Darwin, the 19th-century English naturalist who laid the groundwork for evolutionary theory, for the 10th Congressional District seat.
Darwin died in 1882, and if history is any guide, Brown — despite the similarity of his last name to the incumbent’s surname — won’t pose much more of a threat than the long-dead Darwin in the 10th District contest.
Brown, of Augusta, qualified as a write-in candidate for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats in 2010, and earned a total of 12 votes in that contest, according to election records at the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
He qualified as a Georgia write-in for the 2008 presidential contest, earning two votes, and in 2006, he participated in the 9th Congressional District race as a write-in candidate, earning just one vote.
Brown could not be reached for comment for this story, but a July 22 letter to the editor published in The Augusta Chronicle provides some insight into his political views. In that letter, he suggested that the “two candidates for president should take all the money they and their parties raised and put that money toward paying down our nation’s debt instead of wasting it on putting each other down. ... After all, isn’t it elected federal officials who created the debt in the first place, going to war under false pretenses?”
As far as the Darwin write-in campaign is concerned, while votes for him will be counted, they won’t mean anything, other than whatever political message Broun, his constituents, or any potential future challengers might take from the tally.
Jim Leebens-Mack, the University of Georgia plant biologist who started a “Darwin for Congress” page on Facebook in the wake of Broun’s remarks at the Hartwell church, said last week that he thinks a 1 percent showing for Darwin — probably a couple of thousand write-in votes — might be enough to show people both inside and outside the 10th Congressional District that people “are not real happy” with Broun’s representation.
Whether that’s a reasonable expectation or not, anecdotal evidence suggests that Leebens-Mack might now be within striking distance of that 1 percent threshold. The Facebook page had earned almost 1,500 “likes” as of late last week. And, on a recent visit to an Athens farmers’ market, where he was sporting a “Darwin for Congress” T-shirt, Leebens-Mack had dozens of people approach him to say they’d written in Darwin’s name in the 10th District contest, he said.
Leebens-Mack, who said his “hope would be that we get some large fraction, maybe 10 percent” of the 10th District vote for Darwin, added that his further hope would be that support for the write-in effort would be sufficient to prod the House leadership at least to remove Broun from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Broun spokeswoman Meredith Griffanti did not return a telephone call last week seeking comment on the congressman’s reaction to the Darwin write-in effort, but a recent Associated Press story quoted an email in which Griffanti told the news agency, “Dr. Broun welcomes Mr. Darwin as a challenger and is particularly looking forward to the debate portion of the campaign. We’re sure it will be very lively.”
Broun won the 10th Congressional District seat — the district was redrawn this year as part of congressional reapportionment — in 2007, winning the runoff in a special election made necessary by the death of former Congressman Charlie Norwood.
Broun won the seat again in 2008, turning back a primary challenge from state legislator Barry Fleming with 71 percent of the vote before handily defeating Democratic challenger Bobby Saxon in the general election with almost 61 percent of the vote.
Broun drew no Republican opposition in 2010, and defeated Democratic Athens lawyer and activist Russell Edwards in that year’s general election with 67 percent of the vote.