Today’s Courier Herald Column:
As Georgia’s Republicans continue to grasp the national election results, there remains a clear disparity. It appears that Republicans will now have a supermajority in the State Senate. At this time they are one Republican short in the State House. Republicans held on to both statewide Public Service Commissioner seats convincingly, retaining all statewide elected offices in the GOP’s control.
Yet down in Georgia’s 12th Congressional district, Congressman John Barrow is smiling. He will return to Washington from his Augusta home, just like he has before from his Savannah home and his Athens home. The Republicans keep moving his district, and John Barrow keeps going to Congress – This time, by a very convincing margin.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When Congressional maps were redrawn, there were two distinct priorities. The 9th District was to again be anchored by Hall County and was to be decisively Republican. Congressman-elect Doug Collins, not coincidentally from Hall County, will be sworn in this January.
The other priority was to turn Georgia’s 12th district to a Republican district. Democrats in Chatham County were charitably given to Georgia’s first district held (and successfully defended) by Jack Kingston. Republicans from the 8th District, which recently flipped from Democrat Jim Marshall to Republican Austin Scott, were added to Georgia 12 to ensure a Republican would be elected. The result was a district that voted 60% for George Bush in 2004 and 56% for John McCain in 2008.
On paper, there was no way Republicans could lose this seat. Elections, however, are not executed on paper. When it was over, Barrow returns to D.C. with 54% of the vote in a district that he was sure to lose.
Republicans had a bitter primary among 4 candidates that were largely unknown to the district. The only one with prior elected experience, Rep Lee Anderson from Columbia County, ultimately won the primary runoff by a margin that needed to be recounted to stand.
A decision was made to keep the candidate insulated, with no public debates of Barrow. Further, the frequent press releases used to message on behalf of Anderson most often quoted a campaign spokesperson rather than the candidate himself. Many of the district’s Republicans remained unsold on Anderson after the primary, and were put off by the “prevent defense” type of a campaign where the challenger ran as if he were the incumbent.
12th District Republicans have vowed to begin immediately recruiting a higher profile candidate for the 2014 Congressional race. Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams’ name is floated most often. He is stepping down as President Pro Tem for the 2013-2014 session of the General Assembly and has remained somewhat coy as to his future plans beyond that. He will likely receive a number of calls from local GOP members inquiring if his desire to work in DC has changed.
Those same folks may want to consider making a call to one other person as well. That person is John Barrow.
Barrow is clearly liked within the district, though a 2014 matchup with him as a Democrat will likely be more challenging. A better Republican candidate in a non-Presidential election would likely make this district much more competitive. Yet 54-46 is not an easy margin for the GOP to flip.
Barrow also has support among other elected officials within the district, many of whom now wear the Republican label but once shared Barrow’s current party. Privately, they have made it clear they would welcome him if he were to make the inquiry.
There was a time in Georgia when GOP recruitment was almost exclusively on popular conservative or centrist Democrats. It remains to be seen if the emergence of the TEA Party has closed that door. Dems will likely point to the fate of Doug McKillip and Rick Crawford as those who weren’t accepted by Republicans after announcing a switch.
If done at this time, however, Barrow’s switch would look a lot more like that of one other former Georgia Congressman – the one who now resides in the Georgia governor’s mansion. Nathan Deal ran in 1994 against Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America. It was Gingrich who gave deal the proper cover to become an accepted member of the Republican club afterward.
Republicans clearly need to recruit the right candidate if they are to take hold of Georgia 12. The question appears to be open as if they would want to try to recruit the current Democratic Incumbent.