SYLVESTER, Ga. — For most of Saturday’s Peter Pan Peanut Butter Parade, state Rep. Mike Keown (R) was playing second fiddle to the 3-, 4- and 5-year-old “mini tumblers” of Southern Pride Cheer, who marched and rode just ahead of him during the annual event at the Georgia Peanut Festival.
Keown’s opponent, nine-term Rep. Sanford Bishop, had no such competition for attention. The Democrat had a prime spot near the front of the parade.
Although the crowd seemed more interested in Southern Pride’s adorable cheer routine, the optimistic state legislator made the most of his opportunity. Keown and his wife worked both sides of the street handing out cards, shaking hands and asking voters for their support.
The scene was emblematic of the political battle taking place in southwest Georgia’s 2nd district.
The Keown-Bishop matchup is being overshadowed on the national level by the highly competitive race next door in Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall’s 8th district, which has drawn the interest of national media and several powerful third-party organizations.
GOP insiders say that if Republicans win the House by a slim margin next month, they will take down Marshall in the process. But picking off the well-established Bishop — who hasn’t faced any real opposition in a decade — probably won’t happen unless a larger GOP wave develops on Election Day.
Still, Keown is doing his best to take advantage of a favorable Republican environment and voters’ sour mood.
He also believes he can outwork Bishop.
About 15 minutes after watching Bishop drive by, waving from the back of a Chevy Silverado, an elderly woman on the parade route was excited to shake Keown’s hand.
“I think Sanford thinks he’s unbeatable, and maybe his demeanor in the parade showed that,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “It was great to see Mike Keown out shaking hands and meeting the people.”
Bishop’s advantages are clear when the race is broken down by all the usual political measurements.
The district was made more Democratic after a Republican-led redistricting plan in 2005. It gave President Barack Obama 54 percent of the vote in 2008.
After 18 years in Congress, Bishop is well-known and well-established, and he holds an influential spot on the powerful Appropriations Committee, where he makes sure to look out for the farming and military interests that make up a large part of the district’s economy.
Bishop also knows how to use his influence to raise big money. At the end of September, he held a more than 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over Keown. National Democrats have shelled out nearly three times what Republicans have spent on the race, according to the latest independent expenditure reports.