Cruising the reaches of the new 12th Congressional District in former U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood’s campaign Crown Victoria, Wright McLeod is seen by some area power brokers as a deserving successor to the Augusta Republican’s legacy in Congress.
“In the first 15 minutes of our talk, he said that since he has been practicing law, he realized that he missed serving his country,” said Gloria Norwood, whose husband represented the 10th District – territory now mostly in the 12th District – for 13 years until his 2007 death.
His widow, a lifelong family friend and McLeod’s honorary campaign chairwoman, said she saw a man with both the “gut drive” and “the correct heart to be an excellent congressman.” She is letting McLeod use her husband’s car during his campaign.
McLeod is well-known to some by his mother, Dorothy, who taught thousands of Augusta teenagers ballroom dance and social graces. When McLeod, his wife and three daughters returned to Augusta in 2000, they moved into the house where he grew up. He had been away from the area for 20 years while serving as a Navy officer and pilot and later attending law school in Athens.
The confident, enthusiastic candidate is the first to tell you he runs on his own record, and that he’s the best man to go to Washington.
“I have a history of service to others,” McLeod said. “I understand the very complex issues that our country is facing. I believe that I can beat John Barrow, which is the ultimate goal in November.”
McLeod has three opponents in the July 31 Republican primary, and two are from the Augusta area. Fellow Augustan Rick Allen has been on the attack, with his campaign manager filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission about discrepancies in McLeod’s campaign financial disclosures.
McLeod mostly ignored Allen’s complaint until the FEC issued a letter demanding he amend his filings.
Those amendments turned up in a July 3 report, which indicated that several payments McLeod labeled “payroll” in his previous reports actually went to the political consulting firms RCG Consulting, Five Points Consulting and Southeastern Marketing and Production; McLeod communications director Holly Croft and attorney Katie Stoddard; and campaign staffers Michael and Frances Allen and Ryan Reynolds.
Croft brings political campaign experience to a candidate that has none, McLeod said. She’s also the daughter of two of his favorite
teachers at Westside High School, where McLeod won his only attempt at elected office by “unseating a two-term incumbent” to become student body president, he said.
McLeod’s supporters say his critics are focusing on campaign finance details that aren’t being looked at across the board.
“All in all, it’s trivial,” said longtime Republican observer and former party official David Barbee, a McLeod supporter. “It’s disingenuous to jump on things like this when you aren’t looking at everybody.”
McLeod, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the U.S. Naval Academy, a master’s degree in foreign policy from Georgetown University and a law degree from the University of Georgia, said he’s a constitutional conservative in a nation that for years has been “circumventing our constitution” when it regulates activities of the states.
Despite practicing what he calls “happy law” – mostly real estate closings – McLeod quit when he announced his run and relies on his large real estate firm to carry on the business, he said.
“I certainly miss flying, I miss the Navy, I miss serving my country,” McLeod said. “That’s why I’m running.”
His connection with Norwood solidified his support among a still-existent political machine, Barbee said. On Friday, McLeod won the endorsement of former 12th District U.S. Rep. Max Burns, now president of Gordon College, who narrowly lost to Barrow in 2006, according to a news release.