Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Most of the focus of the 2012 campaign thus far has been the toward the GOP nominee for President, with the national focus soon shifting to Super Tuesday where Georgia will be a dominant player. Somewhat more quietly, however, congressional races have been taking shape, with two races well on their way to being high profile contests during this July’s general primary.
Four candidates have officially announced their intentions to challenge the 12th district’s John Barrow in November. Previously considered a toss-up district, the 12th was fortified with a significant number of Republican voters during this summer’s redistricting, mostly from the Dublin area. Democrats in Savannah, including the home of John Barrow, were moved into Jack Kingston’s 1st District. The result is that Barrow is in the unusual position of being both an incumbent and an underdog in his quest for re-election.
State Representative Lee Anderson, A Republican from Grovetown near Augusta, is attempting to position himself as the front runner in the field of challengers by releasing an internal poll and posting strong fundraising numbers. The only one of Barrow’s challengers that currently holds office, Anderson claims support of 20% in his poll of likely Republican voters.
Anderson’s poll shows the rest of the field tightly packed within the margin of error. Rick Allen, also of the Augusta area, polled in second place with 10 percent of the vote. Maria Sheffield of Mableton benefits from statewide name ID having run last year for Insurance commissioner with 9% of the vote. Political newcomer and Desert Storm veteran Wright McLeod of Augusta polls at 8%.
It is not uncommon for a sprawling district like Georgia’s 12th to show candidates polling in relatively low numbers across the board. The district is served by multiple media markets, with most of the candidates mostly known within their own current circles. The goal for the campaign for the next couple of months will be to raise money and build a grassroots network. As spring turns to summer, candidates will then execute the more public faces of their campaigns which should increase name ID and drive changes in polls.
While finishing second in his competitor’s internal poll, Rick Allen won the first quarter fundraising race. With over $270,000 in contributions, Allen has set the pace for fundraising in the GOP Primary. Wright McLeod shows $134,642 raised. That compares favorably to Anderson, who has announced in a press release that his disclosure will show $138,182 in donations. As of press time, Sheffield has yet to file disclosures which would not be required if minimum contribution thresholds were not met by December 31st.
Up on Georgia’s “new” 9th district, there is no incumbent courtesy of Tom Graves Northwest Georgia Congressional district being re-christened the 14th District. The 9th is heavily Republican and will likely be decided in the Republican primary, though a runoff may be required.
State Representative Doug Collins of Gainesville leads the three announced candidates with $114,235 raised, compared to Gainesville Radio talk show host Martha Zoller’s $29,031 based on 3rd quarter numbers, with new numbers expected to be filed today. Zoller has stated from the campaign’s beginning that she expects her fundraising to lag behind her competitor, but will be relying on grassroots and name ID for an effective campaign.
Her ability to reach 9th district voters daily on her radio program has brought a protest from Collins’ campaign to Cox broadcasting, which has ruled that there is not an equal time requirement until Zoller officially qualifies as a candidate. Thus, Zoller is expected to remain on the air through April.
A third candidate in the race is Jackson County Commission Chairman Hunter Bicknell. Bicknell had not filed a campaign disclosure at press time. With Collins and Zoller both hailing from Gainesville, Bicknell’s likely strategy is to attempt to galvanize the non-Hall county voters while letting the other two split the largest county of Hall, home to both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. The ingredients are in place for the 9th to remain an interesting contest to watch.
Other primary contests still appear to be likely. Cobb County activist Michael Opitz is expected to challenge incumbent Republican Phil Gingrey for the 11th District of Georgia. Gingrey reported having raised over $600,000 in the 3rd quarter and has over $1.6 Million on hand. They don’t call it the power of incumbency for nothing.