Only one of Georgia’s 13 current House members is considered at serious risk of losing his job on Capitol Hill this fall. But there’s also a new, open seat up for grabs. GOP victories in both districts would tilt the state’s U.S. House delegation from eight Republicans to 10 while shrinking its Democratic membership from five seats to four.
“When I was elected, we had seven Republican congressmen,” said Georgia Republican Party chairman Sue Everhart, who’s in the final year of her term after taking the job in 2007. “I would love to leave Georgia with 10 (GOP) congressmen to represent them in Washington. Then I would think I’ve done my job.”
The GOP is almost assured to pick up one seat. Georgia got to add a 14th congressional district because of population growth shown in the 2010 Census. Mapmakers centered the open seat in Gov. Nathan Deal’s former political turf in the Gainesville area north of Atlanta. The seat packs in more Republican voters than any in Georgia, giving GOP state Rep. Doug Collins a huge advantage over Democratic attorney Jody Cooley.
But the race being watched nationally is that of Rep. John Barrow, the last white Democratic congressman from the Deep South.
Redistricting last year forced Barrow to move from Savannah to Augusta to stay with his shifting 12th District. The new district lines tilted Barrow’s east Georgia seat in the GOP’s favor and the national Republican Party is spending $900,000 on attack ads to help elect the congressman’s opponent, Lee Anderson, a state lawmaker and farmer from Grovetown.
The Democratic Party has spent about 33 cents for every GOP dollar. But Barrow started the fall campaign with $1.3 million in the bank, while Anderson had to spend heavily on a hotly contested GOP primary race.
Barrow’s best chance of winning a fifth term is to persuade GOP-leaning voters that he’s independent enough for them to ignore party labels.
It’s been a tricky tightrope act for Barrow to win over both core Democrats in Augusta and more conservative independents in the district’s rural areas such as Statesboro and Vidalia. His record has votes to appeal to both sides, and to rile them.
Barrow voted against President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, but he’s opposed repealing it. His votes to uphold gun rights earned him an endorsement from the National Rifle Association, yet he also supported allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Barrow has voted in favor of the president on stimulus spending, but has opposed Democrats seeking to end Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has bombarded the district with attack ads that seek to tie Barrow directly to Obama. Meanwhile, the congressman’s opponent, Anderson, says Barrow is being dishonest by tailoring his message to different audiences.
One of Barrow’s first TV ads of the campaign boasted that he votes 54 percent of the time with Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Republican leader, and voted 12 times to repeal “the worst parts” of Obama’s health care law. A recent fundraising letter to Democratic supporters stated “I have supported the President and the Democratic leadership 85 percent of the time.”
“My math teacher in the 5th grade would put a big ‘F’ on that test,” Anderson said. “He’s a flip-flopper.”
Barrow denied any duplicity. He noted the same fundraising letter states he has voted against Democratic leaders when their positions clash with the district.
“If you are going to be finding common cause with folks on both sides of the aisle, you’re only going to appear to be two-faced to people who think that’s impossible,” Barrow said.
Despite the high stakes, don’t expect to see Barrow and Anderson meet face-to-face before Election Day. After stumbling in debates before the GOP primary, Anderson has turned down invitations to debate Barrow, a Harvard-educated attorney.
Anderson has said he’ll consider a debate only if Barrow, in a videotaped interview, tells voters he will vote for Obama. That may sound simple, but in a phone interview with The Associated Press, Barrow refused to give a direct answer when asked several times to name his pick for president.