Critics question if longtime Democratic congressman from Georgia is too old for reelection

CONYERS, Ga. (AP) — U.S. Rep. David Scott faces multiple Democratic primary opponents in his quest for a 12th congressional term in a sharply reconfigured suburban Atlanta district. But with early voting underway ahead of the May 21 primary elections, the 78−year−old is ignoring challengers and trying to glide to renomination.

Attacks on Scott are in some ways a microcosm of Democrats’ concerns about President Joe Biden, including claims that he’s too old and that he’s disconnected from young voters. He’s another example of how longtime members of Congress continue to serve even as they age, a drama that played out on a much larger stage last year with the illness and death of California Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But unlike those cases, concerns about Scott’s health may not be resonating broadly, said Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political scientist.

“It’s the kind of thing that is talked about among insiders, among politicos," Gillespie said. ”I don’t know how well that’s actually sort of been disseminated outside."

Many voters are still figuring out what district they now live in. After a judge overturned Georgia’s previous congressional map as racially discriminatory, he approved a new Republican−drawn map with big shifts. Scott’s 13th District was shoved north and east into Rockdale County and parts of Newton and Gwinnett counties.

Voters are more than a little confused. In Rockdale County, many residents didn’t realize Scott is now their member of Congress.

“We don’t know a lot about David Scott, besides him having had this district before,” said Beverly Dotson of Conyers. “I know he’s been in Congress for a while.”

Scott’s campaign has plastered the district with billboards and signs, but he hasn’t been making public appearances. Democratic opponents say his failure to participate in an Atlanta Press Club debate exemplifies Scott’s absenteeism.

“He’s hoping to sneak in office one more time. ‘Voters just do it one more time — let me get one more shot at holding onto power in office until I die in office or retire or maybe pass it off to someone like it’s a cigarette,’” said one opponent, attorney Brian Johnson.

When he qualified to run in February, Scott dismissed those speculations.

“Thank God I’m in good health, moving and doing the people’s work,” Scott said. He said he’s seeking another term to enhance funding for historically Black colleges such as Fort Valley State University, and to provide more assistance to struggling homeowners. Scott, until recently a member of the Democrats’ moderate Blue Dog Coalition, could chair the House Agriculture Committee if Democrats regain the majority.

Among Scott’s opponents is Marcus Flowers, who rose to national notice when the Army veteran and former military contractor raised an astounding $17 million from outraged Democrats to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2022. Although Flowers outraised Greene — who herself rakes in money nationwide — he won only 34% of votes in northwest Georgia’s heavily Republican 14th District.

Flowers said he’s now running against Scott because he believes Scott’s reliance on contributions from corporations and political action committees means he isn’t oriented to the district’s needs. Flowers said his run continues his 2022 effort, saying he will confront extremists if elected.

“I think if you have enough people who are out there fighting and pushing back against that, then some of those members who aren’t on the far right or the extreme right will step up and push back," Flowers said.

But Flowers’ fundraising ability isn’t translating to this race. Scott raised nearly a million dollars through March 31 and had $545,000 in cash on hand. Flowers raised $142,000 and spent all but $30,000.

The only other candidate who has raised any money is former East Point City Councilmember Karen René. She said that if elected, she would draw on her experience on the council and her work for a federal jobs program to help local governments and promote business development.

“I’m running because I believe I can meet people where they are in their communities, addressing their needs," René said.

Both Johnson and former South Fulton City Councilman Mark Baker are running to Scott’s left.

“So I’m running not as an experienced politician, and not as a liberal or conservative or any of those things," Johnson said during the debate. "I’m running as an actual Democrat focused on Democratic issues.”

Baker argues Scott has been too friendly with Republicans. He said that while on the South Fulton council, he advocated for ending no−knock police raids, decriminalizing marijuana and paying reparations to descendants of slaves.

“He’s been asleep behind the wheel for a long time, and he supported Republicans who now have taken our rights away,” Baker said of Scott.

Other Democratic challengers are Rashid Malik, who wants the U.S. government to do more to end the Israel−Hamas War, and Uloma Kama, a physician and public health advocate. A runoff would be held June 18 if no one wins a majority on May 21. The victor will face the winner of the Republican primary, either Jonathan Chavez or Johsie Cruz Fletcher, in November.

Scott hasn’t replied to requests for an interview. But his wife and close campaign advisor Alfredia Scott said her husband is a better choice than any of his challengers.

“When the congressman decides to leave, he won’t be pushed out,” she said. “He will bow out.”

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press

Photo: AP