In recent TV ads, the congressman rattles off instances in which he’s voted against Obama’s agenda — the cap-and-trade policy to control greenhouse gases, overseas trade deals and most notably, his controversial vote opposing the president’s overhaul of the health care system.
“When the president’s right for Georgia, I support him. When he’s not, I don’t. It’s that simple,” Barrow, dressed down in a khaki shirt and blue jeans, says in one ad as he leans on a whitewashed wooden fence.
Whether Barrow wins a fifth term in his fall campaign against Republican Lee Anderson, a state lawmaker and farmer from Grovetown, will largely rest on how successfully the House incumbent can convince voters in a largely rural swath of eastern Georgia that his independent streak matters more than his party label. A loss for the 56-year-old Barrow would cost Democrats their last remaining congressman from the Deep South.
It was just this week that Anderson emerged as Barrow’s opponent after a bruising and protracted primary that included an August runoff and a recount Wednesday that confirmed the Republican’s margin of victory of just 159 votes. Even before a challenger was named, national GOP groups were focused on painting Barrow and Obama as political soul mates in a race being closely watched as a chance for Republicans to knock off a Democratic congressman.
Anderson has made a habit of saying he’s running against both Barrow and Obama.
“Now is the time to work together to stop the Obama-Barrow agenda that’s saddling our children and grandchildren with debt and threatening the future of our country,” Anderson said in a statement issued after the recount sealed his nomination.
Barrow’s facing a battle for re-election. Republican-led Georgia lawmakers redrew his 12th District seat to carve out Savannah, the congressman’s home of six years and his biggest Democratic base, and replaced the city with conservative-leaning rural and suburban communities.
The demographic shift puts Barrow at a real disadvantage. In 2008 and 2010, Savannah and surrounding Chatham County accounted for 30 percent of votes cast for the Democratic congressman. Still, Barrow insists he can win.
“Folks in the new counties, just like folks in the old counties, they’re sick and tired of hyper-partisanship and the blind partisanship of folks who only need to know what play is our team running today,” Barrow said during a Thursday stop in Savannah. “For the vast majority of folks in the middle, that is driving people absolutely crazy.”
Republican leaders in the district admit that beating Barrow won’t be easy. As of Aug. 1, the incumbent had $1.3 million in the bank to defend his seat — roughly $10 for every $1 Anderson had on hand.
“I know not to underestimate John Barrow,” said Jim Benton, GOP chairman for Bulloch County, a large farming community that the congressman carried in 2008 but lost in 2010. “With that much money in the bank, I know he can turn out a lot of votes.”
Anderson, 55, defeated three Republicans for the nomination with support from a network of fellow state legislators, mayors, sheriffs, councilmen and other local officials throughout the district’s 19 counties, which include the cities of Augusta, Statesboro, Dublin and Vidalia. It doesn’t hurt that the hay farmer was a longtime president of his local Farm Bureau in Columbia County.
“Grassroots and meeting people one-on-one is where his strength is, as opposed to just hitting the air waves and the major markets,” Benton said of Anderson.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is leading the attack in the district’s TV markets and has reserved $900,000 in air time through the election — a move that offsets Barrow’s fundraising advantage.
The GOP has sought to undercut Barrow’s vote against Obama on the health care law by reminding voters that the congressman has also refused to side with Republicans voting to repeal the measure. Barrow, meanwhile, took an early jab at Anderson last week in an ad that accuses him of supporting a budget plan that would make deep cuts in Medicare and Social Security.