When the Georgia legislature redistricted congressional maps in the summer of 2011 to fit with new census numbers and allow for Georgia's new 14th congressional district, much attention was given to the district of John Barrow. It was not the kind of district that Congressman Barrow necessarily wanted. Much of the Democratic base from Chatham County was taken from Georgia's 12th and moved into Jack Kingston's first Congressional district, including Barrow's now former home.
Meanwhile, around the western edges of the district, areas that traditionally vote Republican were moved in to replace the jettisoned Democratic voters. The result is a district that is drawn to overwhelmingly support virtually any Republican who can fog a mirror and say "cut taxes." Many, myself included, spent the past year writing Congressman Barrow's obituary.
Despite premature reports of Barrow's political death, the congressman continues campaigning around the district with a bit of a wry smile on his face. After all, he has a bit to smile about. He's been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the National Independent Federation of Business, two groups whose bases tend to favor Republicans though the groups themselves often favor incumbents.
And he seems, at least anecdotally, to be receiving some support from Republicans. Other Republicans may be content to just sit on their hands. At issue is the Republicans selected in the four-person primary last summer. State Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown outside of Augusta was the only candidate in the primary who had prior elected experience. He managed to squeak out a narrow victory over Augusta businessman Rick Allen, who himself needed a recount to ensure his position in the runoff over third place finisher Wright McLeod. The long primary process produced quite a bit of bitterness among many of the candidates, and the Republicans entered the race somewhat less than unified.
Adding to the problem is that Anderson, a farmer who, to put it somewhat charitably, did not perform well in primary debates, has refused to share a stage with Barrow throughout the campaign. Generally, it is incumbents who refuse to share the stage with challengers as Barrow has done in past races. For a challenger who is unknown to much of the district, however, the approach has been rather novel and may be a miscalculation on Anderson's part.
Early in the general campaign, Anderson's team released an internal poll showing they were ahead of Barrow by 1 point, 44-43 with 13% remaining undecided. That same poll, however, showed Mitt Romney leading President Obama 53-40 with the same voters. Even at the beginning of the campaign, Anderson did not have 10% of the voters who planned to vote for Mitt Romney in the heavily Republican district, where Barrow had already picked up 3% from those who were voting Republican for President.
Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call and The Rothenberg Political Report has moved the race from "leans Republican" to "Leans Democratic." It still appears to be a close race, but the momentum seems to remain on the side of Barrow retaining the seat.
Unlike when Austin Scott defeated Jim Marshall in 2010 in a similar district that favored Republicans but was held by a Democrat, the Republicans do not appear to need GA-12 to retain control of the House. While some Republican leaders have made quick campaign trips to the district to show support for Anderson, there has not been an overwhelming flood of cash injected into Anderson's campaign by national contributors that would indicate a presumptive takeover. Barrow has outraised Anderson roughly four times over for this contest.
Republicans in Georgia's 12th may need to look to the Scott-Marshall contest for some solace if the apparent trends continue to hold. Marshall survived several attempts to unseat him as a Democrat representing a Republican district. Republicans ultimately had to find the right candidate who made the right connection with his district to unseat a centrist, relatively popular incumbent.
Those of us who wrote John Barrow off for dead seem to have been a bit premature. Georgia 12 is a genuine contest that is likely to be close despite the numbers of the district. If Anderson wins, he will likely be a congressman for a long, long time. If Barrow wins, we'll have GA-12 back on the political watch list as soon as Tuesday's votes are counted.
Republicans in Georgia 12 now must decide which scenario they prefer.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.