ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia congressional candidate convicted of drunken driving was ordered by a judge Tuesday to spend the next six months in jail — a sentence that would keep the candidate locked up long past Election Day.
It was unclear what would become of Democrat Steven Foster’s campaign after he was sentenced by a Superior Court judge in Whitfield County. He was the only Democrat to run in the May 22 primary for the party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Tom Graves in northwest Georgia’s 14th Congressional District.
Dan Lovingood, the 14th District chairman for the state Democratic Party, said Foster could remain on the November ballot if he refuses to quit the race.
“Ultimately, it’s his decision whether he decides to withdraw,” Lovingood said.
Georgia law says state Democratic Party leaders could select a replacement candidate if Foster withdraws from the race or is disqualified under party rules. Party officials did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.
Foster, 61, is a former physician from Dalton near the Georgia-Tennessee state line. He signed up for the race against Graves in March, nearly six months after he was charged with driving under the influence. A jury convicted him Aug. 6.
Even if he could campaign as a free man, Foster would be considered a longshot for the congressional seat Graves has held since 2010. President Donald Trump easily carried the 14th District in 2016. Graves ran unopposed in the last two elections. When he last defended his seat against a Democratic challenger in 2012, Graves won with 73 percent of the vote.
Foster’s defense attorney, Richard Murray, did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.
Lovingood said he was stunned by Foster’s sentence — six months in jail followed by six months on probation, with credit given for the past week Foster spent locked up awaiting sentencing. The court clerk’s office confirmed the sentence to The Associated Press.
“We thought it would be time served at worst, and maybe some community service and DUI school, whatever he needs to do, and pay fines and court costs,” Lovingood said. “To me it doesn’t seem fitting.”
In Georgia, DUI is a misdemeanor until the fourth offense. First-time offenders face possible imprisonment of 10 days to a year.
Police pulled over Foster’s silver Mercedes on Sept. 23. A Dalton police report says Foster was stopped because he was driving with his headlights off after dark.
Foster told the officer he drank two or three beers about three hours earlier. The report said he swayed and stumbled during a field sobriety test. He then agreed to a breath test, which showed his blood alcohol content was .103. That’s above the legal limit of .08.
The patrol car’s dash camera recorded Foster ranting at officers, the Daily Citizen-News of Dalton reported .
“I hate this county. I prayed to God that he would curse it,” Foster said on the police video. “And guess what? He did. Man, I saw it hit and cursed, and I saw people laid off right and left — white people.”