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On duty for National Guard, Clay Fuller can’t campaign for Congress while on the frontlines of coronavirus pandemic

Capt. Clayton Fuller, chief of justice at the Maxwell legal office, speaks to middle school students on Law Day May 1 at the Judge Advocate General's School on Maxwell. Fuller helped educate the students in a 13-week course about the judicial system. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Blankenship)

Clayton Fuller, a prosecutor in Georgia’s Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit and candidate for the state’s 14th Congressional District, has been on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak for nearly two weeks helping disinfect nursing homes in Alabama for the Air National Guard.

Because Fuller is on federal orders, he must adhere to different guidelines that prohibit him from actively campaigning for office.

Kate Fuller, Clayton’s wife, explained that when President Donald Trump ordered states to put their National Guards on federal status and fund the deployments and missions with federal dollars, that changed the way Fuller can operate as a candidate.

“Usually they’re paid for by their state,” Kate Fuller said. “But in response to the coronavirus crisis, the president authorized the states to use federal funding to pay their Guard members. That means they have been put onto a different type of military order than they usually are.”

A rule that comes with the federal reimbursement says when a National Guard member is on federal orders, they cannot actively campaign for office.

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A similar situation in Tennessee happened two years ago.

In 2018, Matt Reel of Hickman County ran as a Democrat in Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District. A Green Beret who is from time to time deployed for special services, he entered the race after having committed to an unspecified mission.

A former aide to then-U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Democrat who once represented Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, Reel was unable to campaign or raise money himself. Surrogates made efforts on his behalf, but it did not go well. He lost his Democratic primary race.

“The campaign is still fully operational but Clay can’t fundraise, he can’t make phone calls,” Kate Fuller said. “There are a couple of debates coming up that he is not allowed to participate in.”

There’s an irony to the situation, she said.

“Someone said to me the other day it’s like they tied one hand behind his back and then asked him to go serve with the other one,” she said. “The irony is that he’s the only candidate in this race who’s out there actually doing something, and he can’t speak for himself about it.”

This is the second time Clay Fuller has been deployed since the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S. In March he was deployed by the Air National Guard and worked on logistics and intelligence during the early stages of the country’s response.

Today he and other members of the National Guard are busy disinfecting hundreds of nursing homes and similar assisted care facilities in Alabama.

A day after he was deployed for the second time, Fuller posted on his campaign Facebook page that he is “proud to support the National Guard’s mission to protect the safety of those living in nursing homes” and that his campaign would continue on.

Fuller was commissioned as an officer into the active duty Air Force in 2010 and now serves as a judge advocate general officer.

In 2018, he was appointed by President Trump as a White House Fellow and assisted Karen Pence’s campaign to “elevate, encourage, and thank” military spouses in the U.S.

Kate Fuller said the veteran community has been incredibly supportive in her husband’s campaign. Being on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, she said he has had a front-row seat to what health and financial issues could be coming down the line, even after the country opens back up.

“If anything he’s motivated more than ever to get up to Washington, D.C., because he can see the problems that are coming for North Georgia,” she said.

The 14th District race is one of the most crowded in the state with 10 candidates. Running against Fuller are Republicans John Barge, Ben Bullock, Kevin Cooke, John Cowan, Marjorie Greene, Andy Gunther, Bill Hembree, Matt Laughridge and Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal.

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© 2020 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press