Former local Republican head Rish to challenge Marshall

Paul Rish, until a few days ago chairman of the Bibb County Republican Party, will challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall in the 8th Congressional District, he said Monday.

Rish, who will be 30 next week, is making his first bid for political office.

He is president and CEO of his own voice and data network business, Rish Telecommunications, and was head of the local GOP until resigning Sept. 30 to make this congressional run.

The Republican Party has tried to take down Marshall, a Democrat, for several years now, making Middle Georgia’s 8th District a national priority.

Marshall defeated a former congressman and a retired Air Force general the last two times out, and now Rish will make a try.

The current Democratic Congress has gotten more conservatives interested in politics, Rish said, and “they’re looking for somebody who can give them a game plan of how we can get out of what we’re in now.”

“The game plan is to create new jobs, secure agricultural prosperity for the 8th District ... to give people their own choice in health care, to make sure the Congress doesn’t completely shed the Constitution,” Rish said.

Rish also said he’ll run on a tax cut “across the board for everybody” with an equivalent cut in federal spending and a balanced budget. He added that if he’s elected, he will turn down taxpayer-funded retirement and health benefits offered to members of Congress.

Rish is likely to have company on the GOP side of the race, and candidates don’t have to formalize their campaigns until April, when qualifying begins for the 2010 elections. Macon businesswoman Angela Hicks said Monday she expects to make a formal campaign announcement soon.

It would be Hicks’ first run for office, too, and she said she only plans to run if a more experienced GOP politician doesn’t get in the race.

“I have no intention of running against a well-known name,” said Hicks, 51. “I have told them I would give them a week or so to make their final decision.”

But well-known names haven’t shown an interest in challenging the four-term incumbent, despite the district’s conservative lean.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, moved quickly up the GOP ranks at the statehouse after getting elected in 2006, and he has been bandied about as a potential candidate.

But Peake said earlier this year that he plans on staying in the state Legislature.

“Marshall has been very good at playing it down the middle,” Peake said. “And so maybe that’s kept some people at bay at the moment. But you can rest assured, people are going to watch how he votes the next few months. ... You never know who may jump in.”

Those months likely will bring congressional votes on the so-called cap and trade energy policy and health-care reform, both of which could alienate Marshall with conservative voters if he sides with President Obama and Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Rish said that despite Marshall’s reputation as a moderate, he typically votes with the Democratic Party, and “that doesn’t seem exactly conservative to me.”

“The Democratic Party is leading us toward a larger government,” Rish said. “I’m a common person just like everybody else. I pay bills. I pay my taxes. I go to work. I work hard.”

Rish said he plans to stay in the race no matter who else gets in. He plans to speak next week with officials for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps coordinate races nationwide and has targeted Marshall in the past.

An NRCC staffer who focuses on Georgia’s 8th District did not return a Telegraph phone message Monday seeking comment on whether the committee would back Rish or pump national money into the 8th District race this time out.

Former U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, whom Marshall narrowly defeated in 2006, could get in the race again, but Collins said Monday that he doesn’t “have any idea what I might do come March.”

“I’m not trying to discourage anyone from getting in,” Collins said.

Rish has done “a lot of hard work on the grassroots” locally, Macon attorney and GOP operative Stephen Dillard said Monday.

But it will be hard for him, or anyone, to beat Marshall, he said.

Dillard called Marshall a “shrewd, savvy politician” who is “deeply entrenched” and has a lot of “crossover appeal” with Republicans.

That’s likely to hold true even in a political environment where people are increasingly displeased with Democrats, Dillard said.

“I guess the question is going to be ... has Jim Marshall created enough goodwill among his constituents many of whom are Republicans, to remain in office?” Dillard said. “I hear from too many Republicans that they like Marshall.”

Asked about this race, Marshall’s chief of staff Doug Moore simply said: “Jim’s focused on reflecting the values and advancing the interests of the folks he represents, and he has no further comment.”

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.