Associated Press Writer
SAVANNAH — Rep. John Barrow, the last white Democratic congressman from the Deep South, ended months of speculation about his political future Tuesday by announcing he won’t run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss.
Barrow, 57, of Augusta took a hard look at a 2014 Senate race after he won re-election just six months ago in a House district that had been redrawn. A supporter of gun rights and one of the few Democrats to oppose President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, Barrow was seen by party leaders as a conservative Democrat with a real shot at winning a statewide Senate race in Republican-leaning Georgia.
Barrow passed on a 2014 campaign for Chambliss’ seat by issuing a brief, two-sentence statement Tuesday that gave few clues to what influenced his decision.
“I’m grateful for the encouragement I’ve received from folks all across the State of Georgia, but I’ve decided that I will not be a candidate for the Senate in 2014,” Barrow said. “I enjoy my work on behalf of the folks in the 12th District, and I look forward to continuing to serve them in the House of Representatives.”
Three Republican congressmen — Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah — have already launched their Senate campaigns since Chambliss announced his retirement in January. And the GOP field may soon grow.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been working to avoid an expensive and potentially bruising primary fight with discussions at the state and national level aimed at settling on a chosen candidate behind the scenes. Mike Berlon, Georgia’s Democratic Party chairman, said Tuesday party leaders had focused on Barrow and Michelle Nunn, an Atlanta-based nonprofit executive whose father is former Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn.
Berlon said Democratic leaders and Barrow concluded the party would be best served if the congressmen sought re-election next year in his 12th District House seat. Barrow won a decisive re-election last fall even after GOP state lawmakers redrew the east Georgia district to carve out Savannah, Barrow’s Democratic base, and create a seat that on paper should favor Republicans.
“John knows how to run campaigns and he’s holding a congressional seat that we just have to keep,” Berlon said. “I am confident he will win that seat in 2014 and he’s the only person who can.”
Berlon also acknowledged some concerns that Barrow might have problems winning over core Democratic voters in a contested statewide primary. Some party officers were outraged in 2009 when Barrow voted against Obama’s health care overhaul. Last fall, Barrow made gun rights a centerpiece of his re-election fight with a TV ad that featured him waving a pistol and cocking a bolt-action rifle. Weeks after Barrow won re-election, the school shootings at Newtown, Conn., made gun control a key issue for Obama and Democrats.
“There are an awful lot of Democrats who will complain at times about John and his voting record,” Berlon said. “But I would rather have John Barrow (voting with Democrats) 80 percent of the time than I would have a Republican zero percent of the time.”
A worst-case scenario, Berlon said, would have been Barrow losing a Senate primary to a fellow Democrat while Republicans picked off his open House seat.
Barrow did not immediately respond to an interview request Tuesday. Michelle Nunn did not immediately return a phone message left at her Atlanta office.