"This was a race on nobody's radar," Shepherd said.
But last month, the Democratic Party unearthed documents showing how Shepherd was arrested on a domestic violence charge 10 years ago related to his relationship with a former fianc e. The charges were dropped when Shepherd volunteered to enter counseling, which the solicitor's office accepted as a diversion program, said Shepherd, who changed his name a few years later from Goldfarb to Shepherd.
"It's about as low as you can get," Shepherd said of the information sent to media and subsequent attacks on Democratic websites. "The purposes of it is not to say I'm wrong on an issue. The purpose is to embarrass and tarnish a candidate about something that happened far back in the past with very little bearing on the present day."
Shepherd referenced a New York Times report on how Democratic strategy this year is to go negative, looking into the business and personal histories of Republican candidates to smear them. That's what they're doing to him, he said. Shepherd thinks the attacks have had the opposite effect that the Democratic Party wanted though.
"Since the attack, there's been a definite increase in fundraising from grassroots, including people living in the district who I've never met. People tell me they used to think Terry Johnson was a nice guy. After this, they don't think he's a nice guy anymore," Shepherd said.
To say Shepherd's wife, Manuela, is outraged, is an understatement.
"I think it was very despicable and desperate by Mr. Johnson and by the Democrats," Mrs. Shepherd said. "My husband always said Mr. Johnson was a nice person, but I don't think a nice person would allow his people to do and to say what they did to us and about us. He's from church too, and I don't think a Christian would say something like that, and I think he should apologize."
In failing to condemn the Democratic Party's actions, Johnson has aligned himself with the left wing group MoveOn.org, Shepherd said.
Johnson denies aligning himself with MoveOn.org and says the information released is part of court records.
"I think Jason has a troubling past," Johnson said. "Violence against women. Trying to strangle, choke, and use a rope and saying he was going to poison a woman he was living with, I think is very troubling, and then two and a half, three years later he changes his name from Goldfarb to Shepherd."
Shepherd earlier said the charges "were made by an angry ex-girlfriend when I told her the relationship was over... she said that I strangled her, and I tied a rope around her neck, and then I threatened to poison her and make it look like a suicide, and that I had been thinking about killing her for a while. It was completely and utterly false, and it's as ridiculous today as it was 10 years ago."
As for Shepherd's claim that the charges were dropped, Johnson doesn't see it that way, since Shepherd underwent a pretrial diversion program, in addition to being ordered to stay away from his former fianc e.
Johnson said voters need to know about a candidate's past.
"Jason doesn't have a voting record to run on. Your experiences are who you are. I had a pastor tell me one time that some things people do forfeit the privilege of leadership," Johnson said.
Dr. Kerwin Swint, an elections specialist at Kennesaw State University, called it a bit of a "he-said, he-said situation."
"Even though the facts of what really happened are in dispute, obviously, no candidate wants to be discussing these kinds of things in the midst of a political campaign. From that point of view, it is, no doubt, smart politics on the part of the Democratic candidate to throw it out there." Swint said.
Shepherd, meantime, has taken the tactic of calling into question office expenses Johnson has paid for with state funds.
"We're not talking about office furniture sitting down at the Capitol office," Shepherd said. It's thousands of dollars worth of furniture that no one has ever seen, he said.
"It's the commingling of public funds for private use at a time when we're facing teacher furloughs, when the state is struggling to balance its budget. We need a representative who is more prudent in their decision making," Shepherd said.
In response, Johnson said the expenses were made to furnish an office in his home because he uses that office to meet with constituents.
"I think he's looking for an issue," Johnson said.
On the issues, Shepherd opposes extending MARTA rail lines into Cobb. Johnson says he is hesitant about doing it as well. Both candidates stress the importance of a locally controlled system.
Shepherd favors adding or converting Interstate lanes to toll lanes, but Johnson "would fight tooth and nail against them." Shepherd said he wants to see the project list before he commits to voting in favor of the 2012 metro transportation SPLOST. Johnson said he intends to vote for the SPLOST.
Both favor legislation that would deny admission to state universities to all illegal immigrants, and both favor an immigration law similar to the one recently passed in Arizona.
Johnson favors a state law outlawing furlough days for teachers. Shepherd opposes one.
"If you take away the option of furloughing, it will leave districts - when times get very tough - no choice but to fire teachers. I have never talked to a teacher who has said they would rather lose their job in a tough economy than give up a few weeks' pay," Shepherd said.
Both point to jobs and the economy as the biggest issue facing the General Assembly in 2011.
The Georgia Ethics Commission reports that as of Sept. 30, Shepherd had total contributions to date of $22,568, with a net balance of $10,158. Among his contributors are philanthropist Bernie Marcus, who gave $1,000, the Committee to Reelect Pat Head, which gave $250, and The Cobb Republican Party, which gave $2,000.
The Commission reports that Johnson's total contributions to date are $59,090, with a net balance of $48,474. Among Johnson's contributors are former county commission chairman Earl Smith, who gave $1,000; attorney Garvis Sams, who gave $300; Friends of Stacey Abrams, which gave $2,400, and the Political Action Committee of the Cobb Association of Educators, which gave $1,200.