David Scott
Rep. David Scott is facing multiple primary challengers this year. Bill O’Leary/AP

This Democrat Has a Liability. His Opponents Are Steering Clear.

Georgia Rep. David Scott has faced concerns on the Hill about his health, but his primary opponents aren’t making it a campaign issue.

Rep. David Scott’s Democratic challengers aren’t exploiting his most publicized weakness.

Despite concerns on the Hill about the Georgia Democrat’s health and job performance, his primary opponents have made no mention of the issue in campaign ads and were hesitant to discuss it in interviews.

Candidates and operatives speculated that as Republicans batter President Joe Biden over his age, Scott’s opponents are wary of attacking their fellow Democrat for the same.

“How do you with a straight face say, ‘Vote for me; I’m younger and more capable, but go ahead and vote for Biden’?” said a Democratic strategist. “I think that is a hard needle to thread.”

Scott, who is 78 years old, has been in the House for 21 years and is leading the six-person field for the May 21 primary. He made history as the first Black chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and currently serves as its ranking member. He has steered roughly $1.5 billion in federal funds back to his district — including close to $14 million in project funds in the recent “minibus,” according to his office. Strategists in Georgia believe his years of community outreach and active constituency team have insulated him from complaints.

Meanwhile, Scott has faced high-profile reports that his health and age are making it impossible for him to carry out his job functions to the degree he did before. Politico reported in 2022 that some House Democrats sought to replace Scott as chair of the House Agriculture Committee before farm bill negotiations. This year, Politico reported that Democratic Party members were concerned about Scott’s decision to run for reelection.

“At some point, we have to acknowledge that it does our district a disservice when you have someone who is so far gone and out of touch,” said Octavia Coleman, a local health care activist who filed for candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in January but failed to meet qualification requirements.

Coleman told NOTUS that Scott is seen as unapproachable and difficult to relate to. She said her campaign would have emphasized Scott’s age had she made the cut.

Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Scott’s most prominent primary challenger is Marcus Flowers, an Army veteran who gained political recognition when he raised $16 million campaigning against hard-line conservative Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2022.

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During an interview, he was willing to discuss reports about Scott’s health; he told NOTUS that he’d heard directly from members about their concerns about the congressman.

“It’s been painful for them to watch how he’s become diminished over the years,” Flowers said.

But Flowers has not mentioned Scott’s name during his campaign — much less his age or health. And he doesn’t intend to. Instead, his messaging and strategy have been almost identical to his campaign against MTG: defending America against extremism.

“It’s not about age,” Flowers said. “It’s about the fitness for the fight — the fight that we’re facing now and the fight that lies ahead of us.”

Other candidates were quick to change the topic when Scott’s name was mentioned.

When asked about his frequent primary challengers, former East Point City Councilwoman Karen Rene’ said, “I think there’s about seven people in this race right now. And that speaks for his record; it doesn’t speak for my record. I can tell you why I’m qualified.”

The remaining candidates’ disinclination to bring age into the conversation may hold strategic merit. Democratic Rep. Danny Davis, 82, faced formidable primary challengers who tried making his age a punching bag. It didn’t work.

Scott has held off multiple primary challengers in recent elections but avoided a runoff in 2020 and 2022. Redistricting means District 13 looks drastically different than it did two years ago when Scott won his primary with 66% of the vote, but he is still likely to prevail if he wins the primary.

“The David Scott that the community experiences doesn’t have an age or a health issue because the David Scott that the community experiences is active, vigorous and healthy on the ground in the community,” said Kimberlyn Carter, executive director of Georgia Action Network. She noted that he and his team organized annual health and job fairs for constituents until the pandemic forced them to pause.

Ultimately, Washington’s opinion of Scott’s shortcomings may not matter in Georgia.

“David Scott will be reelected,” strategist David Brand told NOTUS. “Next subject, then.”

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.