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Georgia Republican convicted in January 6 riot walks out during televised congressional primary debate



A Georgia congressional candidate convicted of a misdemeanor for illegally demonstrating inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, dropped out of a televised debate with a fellow Republican on Sunday ahead of the June 18 primary runoff.

It was the latest topsy-turvy twist in southwest Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District, where Chuck Hand and Wayne Johnson are competing for the Republican nomination in November against 16-term Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop.

Hand is one of at least four people convicted of crimes on January 6, all of whom are Republicans. He was sentenced to 20 days in federal prison and six months of probation.

At the start of a debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, Hand said he was declining to debate Johnson because Michael Nixon, who had finished third in the four-way primary held on May 21, had endorsed Johnson in a press conference the previous month.

Nixon filed a 2005 criminal trespassing charge and a 2010 DUI charge against Hand, which were dismissed. Nixon cited federal court documents to argue that Hand's involvement in the Jan. 6 riot was more serious than Hand had described.

“This is where I get back in my truck and head back to southwest Georgia because I have to win two races,” Hand said as he left the studio while cameras were rolling.

“You’re not staying?” anchor Donna Lowry asked. “You’re leaving, sir? OK.”

“Wow, I don't even know how to respond,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who served in the U.S. Department of Education during the Donald Trump administration, said Hand's resignation was proof that Hand was unworthy of being the Republican nominee.

“I would like to believe that Chuck Hand leaving the way he did today was his withdrawal from the race,” Johnson told reporters afterward. “But certainly people should stop and think about why he did that and what he was trying to achieve by doing that.”

After Hand's exit from the debate, he answered questions from reporters for about 20 minutes, saying he believed Johnson had helped Nixon plan the attacks. Hand was particularly critical of the fact that Nixon raised the issue of his wife's previous conviction for illegal sales of oxycodone.

“It's perfectly fine to attack me as a candidate. I expect it. But to come out and publicly attack my wife, that's a completely different situation,” Hand said. “My wife paid her debt to society before I ever met her.”

He accused Johnson of not living within the district's boundaries, which is not required for congressional candidates.

Hand, a construction superintendent who lives in rural Butler, again portrayed himself as leading a working-class movement to improve economic conditions in one of Georgia's poorest areas. Hand said he would unite black and white workers under Donald Trump's banner. Hand, who has scorned the traditional formal attire of political candidates throughout the campaign, wore a blue denim shirt and Caterpillar baseball cap on Sunday.

Johnson won about 45% of the vote in the May 21 primary while Hand got about 32%. Because no one received a majority, voters will decide the candidate in a runoff election. Early in-person voting begins Monday ahead of the June 18 election.

“Money won't win this election, it won it with hearts, the voters will win,” Hand said. “The coalition we've built over the years is going to win this election. It's the grassroots activists who have done the prep work and will win in November. America First? I'm your 2nd District First candidate.”

Johnson has taken a more moderate stance, saying any Republican who hopes to defeat Bishop needs to do more to attract the largely black Democrats who have supported the longtime incumbent Bishop. He said during the debate that he does not support proposed Republican cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

“We have to get 50,000 people to vote Republican who normally vote Democrat,” Johnson told reporters after the debate. “And it’s basically going to come down to: ‘Can you prove to people, can you show people already that you can actually make their lives better?’”

Johnson dismissed attacks by Hand on him for living outside the district in Macon, saying he had invested in businesses in the district and would move to his home in Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains if elected.

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