A Democratic candidate looking for an easy race wouldn't pick Georgia's ruby-red 3rd Congressional District.
The party's presidential nominee captured less than 27 percent of the vote in 2016. Its congressional candidate didn't fare much better, but at least the party had somebody on that year's ballot. In 2012 and 2014, the incumbent Republican ran unopposed.
Little Rock native Chuck Enderlin, 37, hopes to help restore Democratic fortunes in this clump of counties, south and southwest of Atlanta. He's one of two candidates seeking his party's nomination in today's election.
How tough is the terrain for Democrats in this largely rural district?
"Pretty awful," said Cynthia Bennett, chairman of the Coweta County Democratic Party. "It's an extremely difficult race to run."
"The fact that Chuck has stepped out and thrown his hat in the ring and is giving as much time and energy as he can to travel to the 10 counties that make up the district is pretty remarkable," she said.
In order to appear on the November ballot, Enderlin must defeat Democrat Rusty Oliver, a high school science teacher and former cross country coach.
Enderlin, A U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot, settle in Newnan*, 35 miles southwest of downtown Atlanta, in 2015, after taking a job with Delta Airlines.
Soon after arriving, the Marine Corps reservist got involved in Coweta County Democratic politics, and discovered how deeply entrenched the Republican Party is in that part of the state.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks congressional races, has labeled the seat "solid Republican."
Another nonpartisan newsletter, Sabato's Crystal Ball, classifies it as "safe Republican."
But Enderlin hopes to prove the prognosticators wrong.
"There's a chance we can do this. We think there is a chance to actually pull off the upset in November," he said.
The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, captured 68 percent of the vote in 2016, but faces another former fighter pilot, Philip Singleton, in today's Republican primary.
The general election is Nov. 6.
Enderlin, who is married and has two children, says he's enjoyed running for office thus far.
"It's been great and exhilarating. I have a lot of fun going around and talking with people and meeting with the different groups and hearing what's going on," he said.
Campaigning is a lot of work, he said, like "another full-time job pretty much. Just this one doesn't come with any pay."
The environment on Capitol Hill, he said, isn't healthy.
"It's a mess," he said. "Right now there's no one in Washington who's willing to actually stand up and have the courage to say, 'Hey, this is wrong. This isn't the way we should be doing things. This isn't the American principles we uphold.'"
The division and the dysfunction drive people away, he said. "When you have a disaffected and uninterested electorate, you end up with poor representation, bad legislators and it ends up hurting the country."
In Little Rock, there's interest in Enderlin's race. He still has friends at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic Church, the parish where he grew up; relatives, neighbors and former teachers are also watching to see how he fares.
Steve Straessle, who had Enderlin in his Western Civilization class at Catholic High School in Little Rock, says his former pupil "was as bright and diligent as any student that I've taught."
Straessle, now the school's principal, said the young man he taught "was not a political person. What you saw is what you got."
"I think he always had all the qualities necessary to be a leader at the highest level," he said.
If elected, "I think he'd do great. I think he'd do exceptionally well," Straessle said. "He is genuine, he is extremely intelligent and he has a very real desire to help his fellow man."
Enderlin's father, Charles Enderlin, says he's proud of his son and hopes to be in Georgia when the election returns roll in.
"It's very exciting," he said. "I am encouraged to have a person of his caliber interested in government."
The candidate's mother, Patty Enderlin, is staying in Little Rock, where the family has its business: Oak Forest Cleaners.
Today, she'll be monitoring the results and rooting for her son, she said.
"I think we definitely need some different leaders in our country because I think we're just in a horrible mess," she said.
If he wins in November, she hopes he can do something to rein in government spending.
"If we operated our business like they run the country," she said, "we'd be in jail."
Metro on 05/22/2018
*CORRECTION: Chuck Enderlin, a Little Rock native who is the Democratic nominee for Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District, lives in Newnan, Ga. An previous version of this article misspelled the name of the city.
Print Headline: LR native running for seat in Georgia