Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Lee Anderson is now the GOP’s nominee in the 12th Congressional district. The Columbia County farmer and state Representative defeated Augusta businessman in a tight runoff race last month by 159 votes. A recount didn’t change the outcome, and Anderson has won the right to face incumbent Congressman John Barrow.
Barrow, a Democrat, has served the 12th district since 2005. As such, he has had a certain platform given to him by the voters of eastern Georgia for the past eight years. Anderson, as a newly minted nominee, asserts that he doesn’t care to share the platform of a debate with Barrow until certain conditions are met.
Anderson’s campaign released a press release on Wednesday saying in part “Lee Anderson will consider sharing the stage with John Barrow once he stands in front of a local television camera and confesses his politically disastrous secret – he’s voting for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
“Until that confession, John Barrow is just another professional politician that’s incapable of telling the truth to voters in Georgia’s 12th and doesn’t deserve a platform to further promote his empty campaign promises and tired political rhetoric.”
That’s a unique position for someone who also refused to share the debate platform with his GOP challenger during the runoff election. Anderson was represented by an “empty podium” at the Atlanta Press Club debate broadcast on Georgia Public Television. He refused other debates.
Debates have not been Anderson’s strong suit. The challenge issued from his campaign serves to both insulate him from the possibility of attempting to debate a skilled politician and attorney who is more accustomed to the practice, while reminding voters that even a centrist Democrat is still a Democrat.
A poll released this week by Anderson’s campaign reveals the potential weakness of this strategy and his campaign in general. Anderson’s own pollster indicates that he is leading incumbent Barrow 44-43 with 13 percent of the voters undecided.
The weakness is apparent because the same poll shows Republican nominee Mitt Romney leading President Obama among the same voters by 10 additional points, with 53% of the vote. 10% of those polled who know they want to vote for the Republican nominee for President but either don’t want to vote for their Republican nominee for Congress or haven’t yet decided.
The 12th District was redrawn during last year’s reapportionment to significantly favor a Republican. Yet despite the fact that almost half of the voters in the 12th are new to John Barrow and overwhelmingly favor a Republican for present, they do not yet favor a the Republican for Congress.
Anderson’s press release must be viewed as an unwise stunt and an insult to the political process. With the number of new voters in the 12th district and an even larger number presumably unfamiliar with Anderson, a debate (or debates) between the two candidates is something voters should be able to expect.
Debates are also something strong challengers to incumbents usually demand, not create political constructs in order to avoid. Yet Anderson revealed during his primary run that debates are not his strongest suit, and prefers one on one campaigning. The strategy was evident when he chose to run out the clock on Allen rather than joining for a one on one faceoff.
Discussion among Republican insiders indicates they are underwhelmed with the poll, as well as the campaign’s decision to make it public. They further question the debate strategy noting you can hide during a three week runoff, but it’s a lot more difficult during the months long general election.
While Barrow has the advantage of incumbency, Anderson has the partisan advantage of the base voters within the newly drawn district. Yesterday’s press release indicates that Anderson may attempt to sit on that lead and rely on a Republican dominated presidential turnout to drive him to victory. It’s a unique strategy for a challenger. It will be interesting to watch the poll numbers and see how well it holds up.