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Tamar Hallerman

Lynn Westmoreland sounds off on race to replace him

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Jan. 14, 2016 -  Atlanta -  U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who served in the Georgia House in 1993, was introduced by Rep. Calvin Smyre (left), D - Columbus, as a guest speaker, as Speaker of the House David Ralston looks on.   Westmoreland, who has announced he is not running for reelection to congress.   Activity in the House and Senate was mostly ceremonial today.  Deal administration officials (Chief of Staff Chris Riley and Office of Planning and Budget Director Theresa MacCartney) held a briefing on the FY17 budget and members of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus released it's  2016 legislative agenda.    BOB ANDRES  / BANDRES@AJC.COM

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, center, in January 2016. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

For the first time in more than a decade, Lynn Westmoreland is sitting on the sidelines as voters in the 3rd Congressional District hit the polls to decide which of more than a half-dozen contenders should assume the seat he’s held for six terms.

In a recent interview, the Coweta County Republican, who announced his retirement from Congress in January, offered no major updates about his own political future. But Westmoreland did sound off on what he thinks voters should be paying attention to as they cast their primary ballots today.

Without mentioning any specific names, Westmoreland threw cold water on candidates who claim they can change Washington politics overnight. The famously candid politician was also critical of so-called “hell no” Republicans who oppose all legislation that is not ideologically pure.

Some members of the Republican base say “’I want a touchdown or nothing,’ and those plays just don’t happen,” said Westmoreland. He said Democrats during the last seven years have mastered “slowly moving the needle to the left” politically and that Republicans should do the same on the right.

“You have to grind those things out to get to that goal line,” he said, adding, “You’re not going to fix it by getting up there and doing a lot of ‘no’ votes.”

The extroverted lawmaker said voters should seek out a “people person” who is good at building relationships since that is what it takes “to get anything done” on Capitol Hill.

Read more about the race to replace Westmoreland here. 

Westmoreland made a name for himself early in his political career as a fiery conservative insurgent. He eventually became a loyal member of the GOP leadership team, often acting as a liaison between party leaders and conservative Southern Republicans. He flirted with a run for speaker during last fall’s leadership turmoil but ultimately stepped aside when Paul Ryan emerged as the top candidate.

Westmoreland has laid low since he announced in January that he would step down from Congress at the end of the year to spend time with his family – and mull a run for governor in 2018. He gave up his position on the highly influential House Steering Committee earlier this year, transferring the spot to Ranger Republican Tom Graves, and has instead focused on his legislative work.

But Westmoreland did make headlines earlier this month when he urged Republicans to get over the “Never Trump” movement and coalesce behind the billionaire in order to stop Hillary Clinton.

As for what’s next, Westmoreland did not offer any new details but indicated he’s still open to running for elected office:

“We’ve been traveling around the state and talking to people. I love Georgia, I love the people of Georgia and if there’s an opportunity for me to continue to serve people then, you know, I’d certainly like to look at that. But even though you want to serve sometimes people don’t want you to serve so I think what we’re doing is just getting out and making sure that we can really fit in somewhere and continue to serve.”