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Message To Congress In One Georgia District: Don't Back Down


Both sides have gone to great lengths to make one thing clear, while they're talking, they're not yet compromising. That's because many lawmakers don't want to. For House members backed by the Tea Party who come from strongly Republican districts support is high for taking a hard line.

NPR's Don Gonyea visited one district this week. It's in the northwest corner of Georgia, and it's home to Congressman Tom Graves. He was elected in 2010 and has helped lead the movement to defund the health care law.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Georgia's 14th district borders Tennessee to the north and Alabama to the west. The southernmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains extends here. There are a few medium-sized cities and some you barely notice as you pass through; take the town of Ranger.

DAVID LUTZ: Well, Ranger doesn't have anything, really. I mean, it's just a town. It's a little place out of nowheres(ph).

GONYEA: 58-year-old David Lutz lives here. He works installing security systems, but it's not always steady. He has no health insurance. He has an autistic 9-year-old son who gets coverage through the state Medicaid program. But Lutz says he knows that Obamacare is bad for the country, and he's glad his congressman, Tom Graves, who lives in Ranger, has been fighting to stop it.

And even though you said you don't know a lot about Tom Graves, you - what you know, you like because he's standing up to the president?

LUTZ: Right. He stands on the line that I'm willing to stand on.

GONYEA: It's a sentiment you hear over and over here in a place where, last year, Graves was re-elected with nearly 75 percent of the vote. The district also went 3-to-1 for Mitt Romney over the president. At a local Republican Party meeting in the town of Jasper this week, state GOP chairman John Padgett praised the congressman and the stand he's taken.

JOHN PADGETT: Well, he's very bright, very articulate, nice looking, young man, speaks his message clearly and concisely, and I think he's got a great political career ahead of him. I wish I had two dozen of him.


GONYEA: At that same Republican Party gathering, David Leister(ph), a 60-year-old business analyst, says if anything, Graves should take an even harder line, no matter how this plays out.

DAVID LEISTER: How can you give up? I mean, you cannot just say, OK, I fought long enough and I'm tired. I'm going to go take a break and let somebody else - or just let it go. They want to make you shut up and sit down, and you can't. You always have to stand because as soon as you don't stand, they roll over you.

GONYEA: Kerwin Swint is a political scientist at nearby Kennesaw State University.

KERWIN SWINT: Ironically, the only challenge to Graves is if he doesn't push hard enough, then his constituents may be unhappy enough to put someone else up for the primary next time he runs. And so from his point of view, you know, he has started this fight. He's got to finish this fight. He's got to push and push and take it to the limit as hard and as fast as he can.

GONYEA: Yesterday at a Mexican restaurant on the main road into Jasper, the Pickens County Tea Party gathered for its monthly lunch time meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All righty. Would you like to go ahead and hear about our lunch specials today?

GONYEA: There's lots of talk here about what's going on in Washington. But there's also a sense that this particular battle to defund Obamacare is coming to an end.

ANITA JONES: I think it's dead in the water. I think we're going to have to wait for another time, a better opportunity to try to defund that or repeal it really.

GONYEA: That's Anita Jones. She's a retired engineer who says she comes to that conclusion reluctantly. I asked if that means the current fight has been for naught. No, she says, adding it brought Obamacare's flaws to light and, she adds with a smile, it brought Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party hero, into greater prominence. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

BLOCK: And we'll have more ALL THINGS CONSIDERED right after this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.