Sheffield hopes to surprise in 12th District race

Sunday, July 15, 2012 7:31 PM
Last updated Monday, July 16, 2012 1:08 AM

Maria Sheffield expects better results in her second run for public office.

Maria Sheffield spoke with a woman after the 12th Congressional District Debate at the Columbia County Library on June 30.   SARA CALDWELL/FILE
SARA CALDWELL/FILE
Maria Sheffield spoke with a woman after the 12th Congressional District Debate at the Columbia County Library on June 30.

Sheffield, the only one of the four Republicans running in the 12th Congressional District race from outside the Augusta area, almost became Georgia’s insurance commissioner in 2010, finishing second in the nine-way Republican primary before losing a statewide runoff to Ralph Hudgens.

In the 2010 primary, Sheffield carried Columbia, Richmond, Laurens and Bulloch counties, now the most populous in the redrawn 12th.

Sheffield, who was raised in rural Wilkinson County, doesn’t often mention her unsuccessful insurance commissioner bid, focusing instead on her conservative values, her middle-Georgia roots and her accomplishments.

Sheffield’s mother was killed by a driver on drugs when Sheffield was a teen, and her father died 10 years later of brain cancer. Sheffield then cared for her only surviving grandparent, a grandmother who suffered from dementia, for the last nine years of her life.

The setbacks may have kept her in Georgia but didn’t stop the ambitious attorney from completing college, getting master’s degrees in public administration and business and a law degree by the time she was 25.

“I basically knew there wasn’t a safety net, and I was going to have to make it on my own,” Sheffield said.

“Even though I didn’t have them in my life as long as most people, I still give them credit,” she said of her parents. “They instilled certain values in me and certain things that were expected at a very young age.”

Sheffield pursued the insurance commissioner bid from Mableton, a metro Atlanta community where she lives with her husband of eight years, computer programmer Scott Dunphy, but she located to a new address in Dexter, in Laurens County, for her 12th District bid.

Candidates are not required by law to live in the district, but they often choose to. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat who will face the Republican nominee from the July 31 primary, bought a house on Wheeler Road in Augusta in March after the redrawn district excluded his Savannah residence.

With candidates Wright McLeod, Rick Allen and Lee Anderson hailing from metro Augusta, Sheffield is the only non-Augustan and only female seeking the post, two factors that may be to her advantage, University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said.

When Republicans engage in “friends and neighbors politics,” relying on voters’ tendency to vote for people from their area, the Augusta votes could split among the three local candidates and propel Sheffield into a likely August runoff, he said.

Being a woman also could benefit her campaign among less-attentive voters, who might not be able to distinguish among the three Republican men seeking the post but remember Sheffield because she’s female, Bullock said.

Sheffield said she’s eager to become Georgia’s first conservative congresswoman and considers former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn as role models.

AND WHILE HER campaign lacked the funds of Barrow, McLeod, Anderson and Allen in first quarter disclosures and relied heavily on a personal loan to herself, Sheffield runs a social media campaign of tweets, videos, e-mail blasts and Facebook posts. Once she wins the nomination, money “won’t be an issue,” she said.

Her Thursday statement at a Statesboro debate against the new transportation sales tax referendum, posted on Facebook Friday, prompted a barrage of discussion that Sheffield said is always a good thing.

While the tax referendum is definitely a state matter on which Sheffield said she is “not an expert,” the candidate said the 10-year tax going before voters July 31 will not fix Georgia’s transportation issues.

Metro Atlanta rail projects, for example, likely won’t relieve traffic congestion there if funded, and no future funding source for maintenance of complete, or incomplete, projects exists, prompting a likely gas tax increase, she said.

“I just don’t feel this is going to get us where we need to be,” Sheffield said.

MARIA SHEFFIELD

AGE: 38

OCCUPATION: Attorney

FAMILY: Husband, Scott Dunphy

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Ran for Georgia insurance commissioner in 2010

FUNDS: $114,253 as of March 31

NEXT MONDAY

The Chronicle profiles District 12 congressional candidate Rick Allen.

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