SAVANNAH, Ga. — Now that Rep. John Barrow has turned down a campaign for the U.S. Senate, the Deep South’s last white Democratic congressman must defy the odds a second time by winning re-election in a district drawn to ensure his defeat.
With the 2014 primaries more than a year away, several Republicans are taking a hard look at opposing Barrow in the 12th District. One GOP candidate says he’ll be running full-time as of June, and others said they will probably make up their minds this summer.
Barrow’s re-election to a fifth term in November was a big upset for Republicans after GOP state lawmakers redrew the district to carve out Savannah – Barrow’s home and Democratic base – and replace it with mostly rural, conservative communities. Barrow moved to Augusta and spent more than $2.8 million on a campaign that cast him as an independent who’s pro-gun and often at odds with President Obama. He defeated Republican state Rep. Lee Anderson, of Grovetown, with a commanding 54 percent of the vote – a margin made possible only by thousands of Mitt Romney voters crossing party lines.
Augusta attorney Wright McLeod, who sought the GOP nomination in a crowded primary last year, said he’s “on the fence” about running for the House seat again. He suspects Barrow will be even tougher to beat in 2014.
He sees only one upshot to Barrow seeking re-election to the House: “Hopefully it’ll keep some Republican candidates on the sidelines.”
State Sen. Tommie Williams, a Republican from Lyons, said he’s “seriously looking” at the race, though he questions whether it’s worth going to Washington amid the
current partisan gridlock.
John Stone, a veteran Republican aide on Capitol Hill who worked for late Rep. Charlie Norwood and former Rep. Max Burns, has resigned as chief of staff to Texas Rep. John Carter so he can run for Barrow’s seat. He ran in the old 12th District in 2008 and lost to Barrow by 32 percentage points.
Stone chalks up his loss to record Democratic turnout for Obama’s first presidential race and a lack of support from the national Republican Party. He said it should be a different story for Republicans seeking to oust Barrow next year – as long as they don’t blow their chances with a nasty, expensive primary. Some blame a bruising, four-way Republican primary last year for giving Barrow the edge he needed to win.
“We had an absolutely awful primary in the Republican side, the typical circular firing squad we tend to do,” Stone said.
Stone confirmed he’s been calling McLeod and other potential GOP candidates and asking them to stand down and leave him unopposed.
Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen, who also might run again for Barrow’s seat after an unsuccessful GOP primary campaign last year, wasn’t too impressed with Stone’s offer.
“It was a shocker because, frankly, John Barrow beat John Stone by 32 points last time,” Allen said.
“And I asked him, ‘How do you think you’re going to do better this time?’ ”
Allen paid handsomely to be the Republican runner-up in the primaries last year, when he spent $610,000 of his own money before losing a runoff.
He’s not letting his financial losses stop him from considering a comeback race. He planned to meet with party leaders and key supporters during last weekend’s Republican state convention in Athens and said he would likely to make up his mind soon afterward.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has named Barrow among seven House Democrats it considers the most vulnerable in 2014. NRCC staff are being dedicated full-time to helping defeat them.
Barrow insists he’s not worrying now about a race that’s still a year away.
“There’s a time for campaigning and this definitely isn’t it,” he said. “The best way to apply to be rehired for a job like this is to work harder at it than anybody else.”