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Life after Losing: Moon's campaign faded faster than paint job
Independent failed to get tea party support, but remains active in movement
Former candidate for the 9th Congressional District Eugene Moon used his family van for a mobile campaign advertisement. Some of the paint still remains on the door and front hood. - photo by Tom Reed

Eugene Moon's bid for the U.S. House of Representatives ended six months ago, but his family minivan still carries the ink of his political aspirations.

The white Plymouth Voyager hasn't quite let go of the red and blue spray paint that boldly urged voters to choose "Eugene Moon for Congress."

"Moon" is still legible on the hood, a faded image of a long shot candidate's fervor.

In an early summer special election, Moon was one of eight on the ballot hoping to fill a seat left vacant by Nathan Deal, the longtime representative of Georgia's 9th District in the U.S. House.

A straight-talking marketing manager from Gainesville, Moon says he spray-painted the van on a whim between campaign stops in April.

"We just done it," Moon said. "We just decided to do it."

Moon dropped out of the race a little more than a month after he painted the van. The independent candidate had earned only 2.2 percent of the vote in May's special election.

It hadn't been an encouraging enough outcome to continue soliciting the more than 20,000 signatures required for a shot at a full term in the seat in November.

So Moon spent a couple of hours scraping the paint from the family van, threw his support behind the eventual victor in the race, Republican Tom Graves, and started a magazine about Georgia politics.

Today, Moon says his job - politically, at least -is to help the current congressman make the most of his term and keep voters informed.

In the coming months, Moon will help Graves form an advisory committee that will allow the newly elected Graves to "have open and meaningful dialogue with the tea party," said Graves' spokesman John Donnelly. Though the congressman isn't ready to speak about the committee publicly, Donnelly said it will work much like the economic advisory committee he formed last summer.

Moon says he and Graves share a lot of the same ideas, though Moon claims to be the better of the two at associating with tea party members.

During his campaign, Moon was a staple at tea party meetings across the 15-county House district, preaching a revival of the country's early constitutional simplicity and a return to what he called individual sovereignty.

Moon differentiated himself from Republicans in the race, calling himself a "constitutional conservative" in what initially promised to be the breakout season for those aligned with the rootsy right-wing tea party movement.

Internal polls, Moon said, showed that about 6 to 7 percent of the electorate might be willing to support his candidacy. But as the grass-roots tea party movement morphed into larger corporate entities, Moon - the independent candidate running on his own funding - lost traction in the 9th District.

A major Georgia tea party group endorsed Graves, calling the former state representative "one of us" only a few weeks before Election Day.

The endorsement, from the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, "yanked the rug out from under my feet," said Moon.

"Those tea party people that I was associating with heard that - we lost them," Moon said.

Then he laughs a laugh very near to a giggle. The 42-year-old Hall County native doesn't mince words.

Moon doesn't have a problem criticizing his allies.

He has no use for flowery language. Moon usually moves straight to the point.

"I call those people ‘Couch Potato Patriots'" he said. "They lay at home. They watch the TV. They associate with those people and their feelings, but when it comes down to it, they're not really there."

Weeks after Moon lost the May special election, he, too, had endorsed Graves.

Moon campaigned on Graves' during a hotly-contested runoff with former state Sen. Lee Hawkins of Gainesville.

Moon said his support for the Republican from Ranger was "a natural fit" for him and his family. But Moon is quick to warn that even the support that comes natural can be taken away.

"If he gets up there and he wants to get stupid, he can be replaced," said Moon. "Whether it's with me or someone else, he will be replaced."

Moon has no qualms about changing allegiances when the results aren't satisfactory, a characteristic he attributes to his solutions-oriented approach to life.

No longer feeling he had an ideological place or support of his candidacy in the Republican Party, a man who had previously claimed a lifelong GOP allegiance, Moon took on the congressional race as its only independent.

The decision meant Moon would need the signatures of 20,488 registered voters living in the district to appear on November's ballot.

State law requires independents to turn in a petition showing the support of 5 percent of the voting population to earn access to the Georgia ballot.

In large congressional districts, the feat is almost never accomplished, but as groups like the tea party began to take shape, 2010 seemed to be a good year to be an independent.

In Georgia, though, it turned out just about like every other year does for candidates outside of the two major parties.

In November. Rusty Kidd, a former lobbyist of Milledgeville, turned out to be the only independent candidate who accessed Georgia's ballot for a statewide office. Though Kidd was successful in his bid to become a state legislator representing Baldwin and Putnam counties, the rest of Georgia stuck with candidates from the major parties.

Moon never completed his petition for independent candidacy, though he claimed he obtained more signatures than any independent candidate in the state's history before dropping out of the race.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State's office could not confirm the claim since Moon never turned in his petition.

Short of his own shot at Capitol Hill, Moon says he fully supports Graves as the 9th District's newest Republican congressman. Moon says the 40 year-old congressman the "new face of politics," but the 2010 election wasn't the sweeping change Moon had hoped for when he painted his van and set out on the campaign trail.

"We have went back and we have re-elected the status quo, have we not?" Moon said. "We had the opportunity to replace all these established Republicans - and Democrats - and they keep re-electing the same people."

Still, Moon is hopeful that change, the way he thinks it needs to happen, might come next election cycle.

"People say one thing. The mouth says one thing, and the heart feels something else," said Moon. "People talk the big talk. ‘Oh, we want change. We want change.' But you know what? ... They really don't. They really don't when it comes down to it. A few do, but a lot don't ... I don't know that people have woke up."

He hopes his newest venture will help make voters more attentive.

Shortly after he gave up his bid for Congress, Moon started the Hall County Patriot, a political magazine he has renamed the Georgia Patriot.

The magazine's inaugural issue, first printed over the summer, is filled with columns on taxation and a guide to the state's gubernatorial race.

In it are familiar names from the 2010 election season like Jimmy Norman, a Republican who fell to Butch Miller in a race for a seat in the state Senate, and Gerry Purcell, who originally sought the Republican nomination as insurance commissioner.

The magazine's next issue is slated for a December publication. Moon says that eventually, he wants to make it available statewide with a variety of political perspectives and local news written specially for each county.

"I'm not in it to get rich," said Moon. "I just think there's stuff that people need to know."

Finding someone to coordinate with him in each of Georgia's 159 counties is a daunting task, but one gets the impression that Moon is attracted to the impossible.

"That's the risk taker in me," said Moon. "If you want change, you've got to do something radical."

And Moon says he's lucky his wife, Rose, who quit her job earlier this year to help Moon with a campaign that even he expected would be unsuccessful, is, too.

"We're like peanut butter and jelly," he said.