Today’s Courier Herald Column:
In just a bit over three months, Georgians will go to the polls to select the Republican and Democratic nominees to be placed on November’s ballots. In many races, these primaries will be the only elections. Redistricting has once again brought a dearth of competitive districts to Georgia’s legislature and congressional districts.
The bright standout at the congressional level is Georgia 12, with John Barrow looking to defend his seat with all the disadvantages a Republican legislature could possibly give him. Much of his Chatham County base – including his now former home – was removed from the 12th district and added to the 1st district held by Jack Kingston. Republicans from Laurens County were added in their place. The result is a district that was quite competitive on paper now leans heavily Republican. The power of Barrow’s incumbency will face a tough test, with many willing to write his political obituary before the race begins.
John Barrow does not come empty handed. Newly filed campaign disclosure reports show him with a distinct fundraising advantage over his would-be Republican rivals. Barrow reports a cool $1,044,340 cash on hand as of the end of the first quarter. That, plus an ongoing constituent service operation, gives him a nice head start.
Barrow’s current cash advantage will have no effect on the Republican primary, where four relatively unknown Republicans are introducing themselves to various parts of a district that sprawls from Augusta to the outskirts of Savannah, taking in places like Dublin, Statesboro, and Vidalia in between. And the reality is that Barrow’s current cash advantage will likely not be a factor in the general election.
Once a Republican candidate is picked the race is almost sure to draw national attention given the uphill battle Barrow faces. With attention will come money, from national sources on both the Democratic and Republican sides. This will become an expensive race for each party. The biggest question now is who will be the Republican nominee?
Three of the four candidates are from the Augusta area. Wright McLeod has pulled into the fundraising lead (with personal loans excluded), with $284,347 raised to date and over $198,000 cash on hand. When I framed the race at its inception in a prior column, I referred to him as the dark horse to watch. From a fundraising standpoint, he now leads the pack. Of his performance to date, McLeod said “We’re certainly thankful by the support this campaign has received. The people I talk to throughout the 12th district are tired of the status quo and are looking for people with real life experience to go to Washington and provide some real common sense and real leadership.”
Nipping at McLeod’s heels is Rick Allen, with $268,163 raised plus an additional loan from himself of $100,000 added to the mix. He leads the cash on hand for Republicans with just over $230,000 in the bank. Allen’s loan also provides him with the highest total raised, depending on how you’re keeping score at home.
A bit further behind is State Representative Lee Anderson, whose $210,522 raised to date is just off the pace of his other Augusta area Republicans, but early expenses have him with just $47,801 on hand. Anderson has just finished the session of the General Assembly, which his campaign manager told the Associated Press necessitated a split focus between his elected responsibilities and fundraising for his Congressional bid.
The non-Augusta Republican in the race is Maria Sheffield, formerly of Mableton Georgia. Sheffield made an issue of Barrow’s residency when announcing her candidacy, though she herself did not live in the district at the time. She instead claimed “deep roots” in Laurens County, and now claims an address there as well.
She also claims the lowest amount of contributions for both the quarter and cumulatively for the race, at $14,003 raised to date. A later entry than the others, this is Sheffield’s first campaign disclosure. The majority of her $101,717 cash on hand comes from a $100,250 personal loan.
She is also apparently struggling to find local donors, raising just $1,589 from four 12th district donors who gave $100 or more to reach the disclosure threshold. Deep roots have not yet translated to deep pockets for her campaign treasury.
With that said, money will not decide who wins or loses this primary, but it is a tangible way of keeping score of how the candidates are organizing early, and who is “buying in” to the candidate and his or her message. It’s still early enough for any of these four to be nominated, and a lot will depend on how they use their resources, name ID, and networks to introduce themselves to voters.
It’s a race we’ll be watching closely. After all, this is the first act of what much of the rest of the country will be watching in October.