There is something about John Barrow, the U.S. House member from Georgia’s 12th District, that drives normally even-tempered politicians into a frenzy.
Ever since he upset Republican incumbent Max Burns in 2004 for the seat, the state’s GOP establishment has made it one of their top priorities to drive Barrow out of Congress.
They are still trying.
In 2005, after taking control of the General Assembly, Republicans redrew the boundary lines of the 12th District to remove Clarke County, where Barrow was raised and served for 14 years on the county commission.
Barrow moved his residence to Savannah and continued to represent the district. In the 2006 election, he defeated Burns again by fewer than 900 votes, despite visits to the state by George W. Bush to campaign for Burns.
Barrow trounced GOP opponents in 2008 and 2010, so the Republican-controlled legislature took aim at him again. In the 2011 redistricting, the Democratic precincts in Chatham County were moved into the district of Rep. Jack Kingston, leaving Barrow in a largely rural district where 56 percent of the voters chose John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.
Barrow waited until the congressional district maps received final clearance under the Voting Rights Act, then moved his residence again — to Augusta this time — and prepared to run for another term as the 12th District’s congressman.
State legislator Lee Anderson was the Republican opponent and several Washington-based PACs spent large sums of money to run attack ads against Barrow, who was described by the media as one of the top 10 targets in this election cycle.
Barrow kept emphasizing the same point he has made since Barack Obama’s election four years ago: He’s an independent-minded Democrat who’s not going to vote with the president when he thinks the president is wrong (Barrow voted against the final passage of Obamacare in 2010).
That point evidently hit home with the district’s voters. In a race that most political observers thought would be a close one, Barrow defeated Anderson by more than 19,000 votes.
“It’s because I have a brand that is substantially different from the two warring tribes up here in Washington,” Barrow said when asked to analyze the reason for his latest election win.
“They’re all partisan as can be and can’t talk with folks on the other side of the aisle in any meaningful way,” Barrow said of his congressional colleagues. “It was obvious my opponent was one of those who wanted to be in the crowd of those wanting to shout at each other, and that was what made all the difference.”
Barrow is one of the few Blue Dog Democrats remaining in Congress, but he clings to the quaint belief that his moderate approach is the best one for such a politically polarized era.
“There’s a lot of middle ground in this country,” he insisted during a recent interview. “That’s where the vast majority of people are, but it’s where very few elected officials are. People are looking for a moderate, centrist alternative and they can’t get one through the primary system that dominates politics.”
With a new congressional term on the horizon, the issue that overshadows everything else is the “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax cuts and deep spending reductions that technically take effect on Jan. 1. This looming deadline is a result of the deficit fight between Democrats and Republicans that nearly pushed the federal government into default in 2011.
Barrow described it as another crisis that will be resolved with a little cooperative effort by the two parties.
“It’s been a massive game of chicken by both sides,” he said. “There’s no reason why we should go over the cliff just because we can’t fix all things by the end of this year. There’s no reason why the two sides can’t come together long enough for the work to get done.”
Barrow is not a very popular figure in politics. Republicans despise him and will try to figure out another way to go after him in 2014. Democrats aren’t fond of him either because he’s not a guaranteed vote for the president’s policies.
He has proved, however, that you can still win an election by appealing to that independent spirit that a lot of voters still have.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report at gareport.com. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.