This week’s Courier Herald column:
The longest runoff in Georgia history to end one of the longest nominating campaigns in Georgia history will mercifully be over next Tuesday. Two of the careers that hang in the balance represent the origins of Georgia’s current Republican Party.
Congressman Jack Kingston was first elected to Congress during the reapportionment year of 1992. He is facing college graduate David Perdue for the GOP nomination for US Senate. Bob Barr was elected during the Contract For America election two years later. He faces former State Senator Barry Loudermilk in a bid to replace the seat being vacated by Congressman Phil Gingrey who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.
Their paths were similar for about a decade, and diverged a decade ago when Barr chose to challenge fellow incumbent Congressman John Linder rather than stand for re-election in a district which Barr was finding increasingly competitive. Linder won soundly, and Barr has spent the past ten years working as an attorney and commentator, and running for President as a Libertarian.
Kingston’s resume is quite a bit more linear and in many ways, less…dramatic. He’s been a solid soldier on the House Appropriations Committee, chairing a couple of powerful sub committees. It is that committee assignment that was viewed as potentially Kingston’s biggest campaign weakness, but has turned out to be one of his best advantages.
Kingston’s ads which ran during much of the general primary featured his old station wagon and his kids dressed in hand-me-downs. While the ads were not universally loved, they did help introduce Kingston to much of the state who didn’t know him or about his frugal idiosyncrasies. They also helped blunt any potential charges that Kingston was an out of touch D.C. big spender because of his service on the Appropriations committee.
His long tenure did serve to help him in establishing a fundraising and grassroots network across the state. His reserved nature and history as a Congressman that worked well with the rest of the state’s Congressmen and party faithful allowed him to gain a fundraising organization that dwarfed all others save his largely self-funded opponent. His fundraising edge helped push him through a crowded field and into next Tuesday’s runoff.
His familiarity with the GOP activists has since allowed him to be the choice that most GOP grassroots and Tea party leaders to coalesce behind since the runoff. Unlike his opponent, Kingston has shown he is comfortable and relatable to the party’s base, whereas Mr. Perdue continues to make unforced gaffes to the “envelope lickers” he needs to vote for him.
In short, Kingston has spent his two decades plus in Congress establishing himself as a methodical and trusted resource who has little risk of becoming someone different once he is sworn in the US Senate. He’s a known quantity.
His former colleague Bob Barr is known for very different reasons. Barr’s propensity to reinvent himself seems to correlate strongly to whatever will get him in front of a TV camera or generate his name in print. He seems willing to say or do anything to agree with the opinion polls of the day, and has shown an amazingly flexibility to change his views as public opinion does. His ability to change direction with the blowing winds earned him the moniker “Weathervane Bob Barr” from National Review. Whether the legalization of drugs, gay marriage, or demanding to be tough on crime while referring to local police as “Barney and Andy with a militia”, there is seemingly not a position of the day that Barr hasn’t been on both sides of.
Worse, Barr seems to want the people of Georgia’s 11th district to return him to Congress so he can resume his duties where he left off. The problem is that the country and the GOP have changed significantly in the past twelve years, and stump speech lines about Janet Reno and Clinton’s impeachment demonstrate that time has moved on but Barr has not. Barr’s campaign indicates he has no record of achievement since leaving office for a decade so he must only cling to fading memories of his own glory days highlight reels as a reason to vote for him.
Both Barr and Kingston were instrumental in building Georgia’s Republican Party and helping turn Georgia into a deep red state. The similarities largely stop there. Barr has used his position for shameless self-promotion, and used the party as a tool of convenience that could be discarded or trumpeted as the occasion suits.
Kingston, on the other hand, has demonstrated that one can be a “loyal” member of the GOP Congress and still attract the support from anti-establishment and Tea Party types. This alone should give him serious consideration. The Senate, after all, is a place where coalitions must be built, and anyone who can unite the Tea Party and the “establishment” within Georgia’s GOP clearly has the skills needed to navigate within DC’s upper chamber.
Jack Kingston will get my vote next Tuesday. Bob Barr will not.