GA-12: Trouble Brewing for Barrow

I divide my time between Georgia’s 13th district and its 12th district, depending on whether I’m at home or in college. Unfortunately, I’m represented by Democrats, David Scott and John Barrow, respectively, in both districts. Since I’m registered to vote in the 12th district, I’ve been doing what I can to help the Republicans oust Barrow.

Georgia's 12th District
Courtesy of NationalAtlas.gov.

Barrow’s Progressive Predicament
Search the list of congressmen who voted against the Obamacare bill and you’ll find Barrow’s name. You see, John Barrow likes to play the moderate card. He has to in order to keep getting elected from a district that is, on the whole, fairly conservative, especially outside of Savannah and Augusta. Unfortunately, he also has his Left-wing base to appease, too. However, as of late, he’s been neglecting the latter in favor of the former, and in the process, he’s forgotten that the first thing any politician must do is to secure their base. The independents and moderates can sway and go either way, but you’d hope that someone is a lock to vote for you, especially if they are predisposed to support you anyways.

The fact that Barrow voted against the Obamacare bill doesn’t sit too well with the Liberals in this district. It’s brought some backlash from the Liberals in the district. The black community of Savannah, for one, isn’t too pleased:

Resentment is seething among black political leaders against Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow after his vote against a major health care bill.

The measure, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s agenda, passed the House narrowly Sunday; Obama signed it into law Tuesday.

At least two black state lawmakers who backed the Savannah congressman in 2008 – or were neutral – now favor Regina Thomas, his July 20 primary election foe.

And Savannah Mayor Pro Tem Edna Jackson, long a key Barrow ally, says she won’t be in the primary. She wouldn’t elaborate, but had sought his vote for the health bill.

Other black leaders accused him of abandoning his black constituents.

“He has no respect for the people of color who are the majority of people who voted for him,” said the Rev. Bennie Mitchell Jr., pastor of Connor’s Temple Baptist Church. “There is no way I can support him.”

Chatham County Democratic chairman Tony Center said Barrow is in “a lot of trouble” because of his vote.

“I think it has brought his whole voting record to the forefront,” Center said.


More than 60 percent of the people who will vote in the Democratic primary in his 12th Congressional District are expected to be black.

State Rep. Bob Bryant, D-Garden City, who backed Barrow two years ago, has endorsed Thomas. So has state Rep. Mickey Stephens, D-Savannah, who didn’t take sides when Thomas, who is black, ran – and lost – against Barrow in 2008.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Craig Gordon, D-Savannah – also neutral in 2008 – said he’s now less likely to support Barrow.

The legislators – who represent parts of the 12th District – and Mitchell were among those who tried during a Saturday conference call persuade Barrow to reconsider his vote.

“His mind was made up and he wasn’t willing to listen,” said Bryant, who said he’ll vote for a Republican – or not at all – if Thomas loses. At least four people are seeking the GOP nomination.

“(Barrow) really ticked me off,” said Stephens. “I have people in my district call me every day. They don’t have health insurance. They’re hurting.”

It’s not just the black leaders in his own district, however, that are mad at him. The Congressional Black Caucus’ feathers have been ruffled by his vote as well. The article makes mention of one member of the caucus in particular:

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., told Washington, D.C.-based Roll Call she won’t stump for Barrow in the 12th as she has in the past.

“Members who represent large numbers of African-Americans,” Brown said, “should be sensitive to the people they represent. Health care is the new civil rights.”

Winning the black community’s vote is a huge part of winning any election for house in the district, and it’s particularly important for the Democratic primary. As the article noted, around 60% of those expected to vote in the party’s primary are black. You make them mad, which is what Barrow appears to have done. and you are probably not going to win. The loss of Savannah’s Mayor Pro Tem Edna Jackson is particularly big, as she has been one of Barrow’s biggest allies, particularly in the black community, in the district.

So, what the black community’s “leaders” and other Liberals in this district are now trying to do is support a primary challenger by the name of Regina Thomas. She’s attempted to primary Barrow in the past, but these have been nothing more than quixotic, “I am a Liberal hear me squeak,” campaigns. However, she may be getting some real attention now, and she’s not the only one. The Congressional Quarterly, which has apparently caught on to the trouble brewing down here, has a nice piece up about Barrow’s many possible challengers, saying:

Barrow is already facing former state Sen. Regina Thomas in a rematch of the 2008 primary that Barrow eventually won in a cakewalk after Obama’s endorsement. But in recent days, there has been increased speculation about a possible primary bid by state Sen. Lester Jackson, who replaced Thomas in the state Senate in 2008 after serving a decade in the state House.

Along with his work in the state legislature, Jackson, who is black, is a dentist and a Democratic national committeeman. Jackson was a champion of the health care bill in his home state and worked to rally support for the legislation. On the day before the vote, he helped put together a conference call of elected officials and faith leaders, spending an hour on the phone with Barrow lobbying him to vote for the bill. For his efforts over the course of the debate, Jackson was invited to the White House on Tuesday to witness the president sign the legislation that Barrow voted against.

Under one scenario, Jackson’s entry into the primary would allow Thomas — who was never a strong fundraiser during her 2008 run and had less than $5,000 on hand at the end of 2009 — to drop out of the congressional contest and run for her old state Senate seat. That would allow Jackson to consolidate the support of black voters, who are expected to make up nearly two-thirds of the Democratic primary electorate in the 12th district this summer.

If Jackson doesn’t run, another possible primary challenger being floated by Georgia insiders this week is state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Thurmond, who is black, doesn’t live in the district and is currently running for re-election to his statewide office. But Georgia Democrats say he’s a candidate with the name recognition and statewide connections to step into the race and give Barrow a serious challenge.

Right now, in my humble opinion, the biggest threats to Barrow in the Democratic primary are Thomas and Jackson. I’m aware that nothing may come of these challengers, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that they are gaining momentum. Whether these challengers succeed or not, it’s certain that the next few months won’t be fun for John Barrow. These challengers will force him to spend money defending himself to his base, which is something a politician, at least a smart one, shouldn’t have to do. If it gets serious enough, he could end up using much of his money in the primary, leaving him less equipped to defend himself from a Republican challenger. And on the off chance one of these more Liberal Democratic challengers should win, it is very likely that they will get beaten handily in the general election. A Democrat has to at least pretend to be moderate to be elected here, and it is doubtful that any one of these challengers will be able to successfully pull this off, especially without angering their own base.

The Republican Challengers
For the record, I am not on any campaign’s payroll nor am I affiliated with any of them.
EDIT:Lawton Sack, the Bulloch County GOP Vice-chair, has left a comment on this piece that you may also find informative. Check it out here.
While schadenfreude at Barrow’s primary predicament with progressives is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, let’s not forget that there are Republican challengers in the district, too. It’s an uphill battle, as district is Democratic leaning. However, it is doable, especially in a year like this and if we can get the word out.

There are something like five candidates runnign for the Republican Party’s nomination in the district. Of these candidates, Jeanne Seaver (Facebook) and Carl Smith (Facebook). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both several times through both the Georgia Southern College Republicans and the Bulloch County GOP.

Jeanne Seaver is a former businesswoman who has also had some work as a community activist. She is also the mother of three children. As a business woman, she has experience working int he legal and aviation sectors. She also believes that her experience in business managment with developing health insurance benefits will give her great insight on the healthcare debate going on in Washington. Her biggest work as an activist has been in the area of child advocacy. She’s been the Vice-chair of Savannah’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program, which “recruits and trains volunteers from everyday walks of life to provide individual advocacy for innocent children who might otherwise become ‘lost’ in the system,” according to its website. She is also a co-founder of the Youth Yoga Initiative, which, as her website puts it, “teaches at risk youth in the school system to deal with stress and pressures while building a positive self image.” Finally, her website also makes mention of the fact that she is a founder of the National Right of Communities Association (NROCA). This organization “is dedicated to the education of all Americans in regard to our country’s founding documents, our constitutional rights, grassroots involvement as well as promoting honesty in government.”

Truthfully, either of these candiates will make a fine representative of Georgia’s 12th district, and either of these candidates will be a great improvement over John Barrow. However, the candidate that has most impressed me through our meetings is Carl Smith. He’s a 3rd generation firefighter, and he has spent the last 16 years as the fire chief of Thunderbolt, Georgia, a Savannah suburb. In this capacity, he has been called to help out with numerous disasters, both natural and manmade, including Hurricane Hugo, the South Georgia Wildfires, Hurricane Katrina, and the sugar refinery explosion in Port Wentworth. During his service with the firefighters, he was elected President of three different firefighters’ unions, the Savannah Firefighters Association, the Chatham County Fire Chiefs Association, and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. In 2007, he was also selected to be the President of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs, which is an affiliate of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He has also twice been elected to the Thunderbolt town council, once in 1997 and once in 2005. His website highlights the main achievements of his time as councilman as reducing property taxes, cleaning up the town’s budget practices and audit reports, and enhancing the response capabilities of the police and fire departments.

However, what has impressed me about Carl Smith just as much as his resume is his plan, not just for his possible time in Washington, but also for the Republican party. Whenever I have met with him or seen him speak to any group, he is always quick to refer to what he calls “Carl’s Common Cents,” his pledge for what he will do as a Congressman from the 12th district. According to the cards he gives out, these “Common Cents” consist of the following:

  • Restore individual liberties and defend our state’s rights.
  • Protect the 2nd amendment.
  • End the current borrow, tax, print, and spend policies.
  • Fight for balanced budget legislation.
  • Reduce the size, control, and cost of our Federal Government.
  • Eliminate earmarks.
  • Support immediate tax payer relief and fight to reform our tax code.
  • Promote real energy independence and halt our dependency on foreign oil.
  • Support term limits.
  • As for his ideas for the Republican party, he believes that we have to continue and extend our outreach efforts to minorities and the rank and file of unions. He frequently attends union and minority events and gatherings where he is normally the only Republican to show up. He does this because, from his own experiences as a firefighter and as the head of a firefighters’ union, he has seen that the rank-and-file union workers are often very conservative, and they are often open to voting for a Republican if they believe he or she understands their situation. The same goes for the black community. Despite what the self-appointed “leaders” of it might say, most blacks are conservative on many issues, particularly social ones. Carl believes that we need to explain just how the Republican party is the political party that is more inline with their ideals. He both cases, he believes that we shouldn’t compromise our points of view to get votes, but instead, he believes we should explain why conservatism can work for them.

    I also have word that, should Regina Thomas or any other primary challenger not be successful against John Barrow, many of the black leaders backing these challengers will endorse and perhaps campaign for Carl Smith. They are just that angry with Barrow. While this may not cause record balck turnout for the Republican in the district, they can at least persuade the “rank-and-file” blacks not to vote for Barrow, whetehr that means staying home, voting for Smith, or voting third party.


    Let’s not deceive ourselves, the battle in GA-12 is going to be an uphill fight. Despite the primary challenger(s),  Barrow still holds the inside track to both the Democratic primary and the general election. He’s beatable, and he was almost beaten for reelection back in 2006, which was a banner year if any for the Democratic party. To beat him, the Republican candidates need our support. After speaking with both of them, I have come to believe that Carl Smith is the candidate with the conservative principles and leadership that this district and the House of Representatives needs at this moment. Drop by and give him some support. He desperately needs it.

    Who knows? Perhaps we will be able to win this. It’s possible, if only we are willing to lend our support.

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