If Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) knows just how politically vulnerable he is this cycle, he doesn’t show it.
The fourth-term Blue Dog is charismatic, agreeable, hardworking and politically savvy. But those qualities may not be enough to retain his spot as the only Democrat representing a majority-white district in the Deep South.
In redistricting, Barrow and a huge swath of Democrats were drawn out of the Peach State’s 12th district and replaced with Republicans, mostly from the Augusta area. The new district would have voted more than 59 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election — an increase of 10 points over the current district Barrow represents.
In an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Barrow appeared unfazed. Asked how he can win given the demographic shift, he was blunt.
“It would be more difficult for some, but it won’t be for me,” Barrow said. “While the margin will be affected some, it won’t be enough to make a difference.”
That’s a debatable proposition.
Barrow said he is definitely running for re-election in the 12th district and will move into it once the lines are finalized. Litigation on the new map is pending.
The distillation of his message: He is a proven independent. Barrow says he has built a record of voting with his district even when his party is going the other way.
“I’ve got the stripes and the scars to show for it. It’s not something I just say at election time. I’ve been primaried for it. I have been beat up,” he said.
Barrow voted 91 percent with Democrats in 2010, according to a CQ Vote Study. However, he parted with his fellow Democrats — and the White House — on some marquee issues in recent years. He voted against the Democratic-written health care bill, against cap-and-trade legislation and, earlier, against the Troubled Asset Relief Program bill.
Two votes with his party that Republicans won’t let him forget this cycle: for the 2009 stimulus and against repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Barrow said he has no regrets on any of his big votes, especially voting against the health care bill and against its repeal.
“Any way you slice it, while we’re stuck with the thing, as long as we have the current Senate and the current administration, I think our policy has got to be fix and to make it better,” he said, ticking off a list of places where he has supported legislation to adjust the massive health care law.
On the stimulus, Barrow launches into a soliloquy on one of the big problems with Washington, D.C., in modern times: It’s filled with politicians who overpromise and underdeliver. He said he tries to never be one of them.
“What I regret about the stimulus is that it was ballyhooed and represented by its proponents to do a whole lot more than it was going to do,” Barrow said in his trademark south Georgia twang. He noted that the stimulus gave his state a massive infusion of essential monetary support.
Regardless of the nuance, expect to see GOP ads reminding voters of Barrow’s vote for the stimulus and also reminding them of Georgia’s high unemployment rate.
There are at least five Republicans in the race to take him on, but he’ll likely face one of the three top GOP contenders: state Rep. Lee Anderson, attorney Maria Sheffield or businessman Rick Allen.
There’s no early frontrunner, but in interviews with Roll Call, each candidate already had a narrative that they’ll tell primary voters.
Anderson, 64, who was first elected to public office when he was 27, will emphasize his professional experience as a politician, farmer and businessman.
“I’m just plain, simple, common-sense and very conservative,” he said. Anderson has been elected as a school board member, a county commissioner and a state Representative, and he said he knows what the people of the 12th district are looking for in a Congressman: someone who listens and can balance a budget.
Sheffield, 37, who announced on Dec. 1, will emphasize her conservative values and her family history in the district, and she will contrast her grass-roots bona fides with a longtime elected official and a rich businessman willing to spend lots of money to win. She has already blasted out releases slamming Barrow for his connection to the president.
Allen, 60 and new to politics, grew up on a farm and spent his career building up a successful construction business. He’s stepped back from some management responsibility there and said he felt called to public service. He has the potential to be a partial self-funder, but he is also assiduously fundraising. While his opponents may paint him as trying to buy the election, he’ll emphasize that he’s lived the American dream and is now moved to give back.
Roll Call rates the race in Georgia’s 12th district as a Tossup.
Whatever the slings and arrows of the campaign are, Barrow, one of the few Blue Dogs left, promises he won’t need to change much in light of his reconfigured district and the new voters he will need to reach.
“I represent the district that I serve. I’m like a lawyer for a client. I represent my client zealously and within the bounds of the law; that’s my obligation,” Barrow said. “This place needs more folks who approach the job the way I do. It may not need me, but it needs more folks who approach it the way I do.”