Military vet challenges Bishop’s grip on Georgia Democratic stronghold

Bruce McPherson, a U.S. Army veteran, poses with his wife and children. He is challenging Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop.

A political newcomer with a polished military background is challenging U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, hoping to flip the script by winning a House seat long in Democratic hands during a midterm election where Republicans elsewhere have targets on their backs.

Bruce McPherson, 33, entered the race Wednesday to represent the sprawling southwest Georgia district with a vow to focus on economic development and steer clear of culture-wars that could jeopardize his chances in the left-leaning district.

“I have moral stances on social issues and I’m not afraid to share those, but I’m not going to be leading the fight to make huge sweeping changes,” he said. “The message we need is an economic one. We need to focus on changing the business environment, pushing tax reform and rolling back Obamacare.”

Though the lines have changed over the years, the seat has been in Democratic hands for generations. Bishop, 70, first won it in 1992 and trounced a string of recent challengers. But he faced stiffer competition in 2010 when he narrowly defeated Mike Keown, a pastor and former state lawmaker.

McPherson said his background brings a different sort of appeal. After graduating from the University of Georgia, he served 10 years in the military, first in the U.S. Army infantry and later as a special forces officer. He completed two deployments in Afghanistan and now serves as a major in the Army Reserves.

“When it comes to leadership and character, there is no place that forges that better than the front lines in combat,” said McPherson.

“As a 24-year-old second lieutenant, you didn’t have a choice. You had to suck it up and lead. That was it. What I bring to the table is a little different. I’m young, but my life experiences greatly outweigh my youth.”

He faces at least one other GOP contender: Herman West, a Randolph County native who is the brother of former U.S. Rep. Allen West, launched his campaign earlier this summer. Several other Republican officials are said to be considering the race.

McPherson, now a medical device sales representative in Columbus, said he’s faced tougher challenges before – including leading a 12-man team in a remote, mountainous district in southern Afghanistan where his unit helped train community police forces and battle militants.

“When it comes to going into a situation where people have told you it’s impossible, that it can’t be done – well, the skills I’ve developed convince me that it’s not.”

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