Next few months critical for congressional hopefuls

mstucka@macon.comMarch 1, 2014 

Chris Grant, a Mercer University associate professor of political science, predicts how Middle Georgia congressional districts will run.

MIKE STUCKA/THE TELEGRAPH

When candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives qualify in the coming week, they’ll launch what could be short-lived political campaigns. Some of the races could effectively be settled in the partisan primaries, which will come unusually early this year.

That may shift much of the focus and money to the 12th Congressional District, where a bevy of Republicans hope to pull Democrat John Barrow out of the House. The district includes Laurens and Wheeler counties but stretches fan-like east to the Georgia border, where it picks up Augusta and some of the Savannah suburbs. Those places tend to vote Republican but also voted for Barrow in the last election.

“John Barrow’s probably the most vulnerable Democrat in the state,” said Chris Grant, an associate professor of political science at Mercer University. “He is in a district drawn to favor Republicans. He is the last white Democrat between Virginia and Louisiana in Congress.”

Off-year elections tend to favor the party that doesn’t occupy the White House, so Grant expects that Republicans will generally fare well.

“John Barrow’s probably at the most risk in this election cycle than he’s ever been, even though he’s been a risky incumbent for a while,” Grant said.

Charles Bullock, the Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia, wonders if Barrow might succeed again this year. He was in Athens, until redistricting shifted his house. He moved to Savannah to stay with most of the district, and after another round of redistricting, he moved to Augusta.

“He continues to survive. One of the major things that helped him in 2012 was a very inept Republican challenger, so I think this year the Republicans might like to have a more adroit challenger than it did last time, not that the party can control these things,” Bullock said. “He may dodge yet another bullet.”

The Associated Press reported that Barrow’s Republican challengers likely will include construction company owner Rick Allen of Augusta, who lost in a primary runoff election last season; former congressional aide John Stone of Augusta; state Rep. Delvis Dutton of Glennville; and Diane Vann of Macon, who would come from 50 miles outside the district. Vann previously ran inside her district for Congress but was beaten in a primary.

One late addition to the race: Eugene Yu, a Republican who canceled his plans to run for U.S. Senate and decided to run instead against Barrow.

Ken Caroll of Eastman, the District 8 Republican chairman, said he thinks his party has a good chance in Barrow’s 12th Congressional District.

“That should be in the GOP column based on their voting habits on everything other than the congressional race,” he said.

DuBose Porter of Dublin, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, lives in Barrow’s district. He predicted another win for Barrow.

“John’s done a great job. He is what we need more of: Middle of the road, thoughtful, stays in contact with the constituents, independent and reflects his district probably as well as anybody in Congress. He’s worked hard, and I think he’ll be rewarded for his hard work,” Porter said.

Strength through districting

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics analyzed all the House seats in the United States. Barrow’s 12th Congressional District was listed as leaning Democratic. Every other congressional district in Georgia -- and there are 13 others -- was listed as either safe for Republicans or safe for Democrats.

That’s largely a function of redistricting. Both Republicans and Democrats have used redistricting in Georgia to gain the maximum possible advantage from elections. In the 2011 round of redistricting, the state’s Republicans strengthened their hold on the 8th Congressional District.

That’s where Austin Scott defeated a Democratic incumbent, Jim Marshall, in 2010 after many Republican efforts to oust Marshall. But the same redistricting effort split Bibb County and made other changes that strengthened the Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District, where incumbent Sanford Bishop narrowly beat a Republican challenger in the previous race.

Porter talked about the divides.

“During reapportionment, things were divided so heavily in one way or the other. You go where you have your best chances to win, based on the historic data in those districts. We can’t reapportion the whole state,” he said.

Scott may go a second time without a Democratic challenger in the 8th Congressional District, which stretches south from Jones and Monroe counties. It also picks up north Bibb County, as well as Houston, Wilkinson, Twiggs, Dodge, Bleckley and Pulaski counties on its way to the Florida border.

Bullock said a Democrat may yet run for the 8th Congressional District, but it will be a fruitless effort. The Democratic Party has had tough times in Georgia, he said.

“If it hasn’t hit bottom, it’s very close. A party that would like to rebuild wants to see names on the ballots,” Bullock said. “They may succeed in getting someone on the ballot. It may be as in the 10th District: Someone with no money and no realistic hope of winning.”

Bishop’s 2nd Congressional District includes parts of Macon and Columbus, as well as the entire southwest corner of the state. Announced Republican candidates include Greg Duke, a former Lee County school board member, and Vivian Childs, who lives outside the district, in Warner Robins. Childs is Carroll’s predecessor as the Republican chairman of the 8th Congressional District.

Carroll said it’s “possible” for a Republican to win in the 2nd Congressional District, but the district has other challenges. It’s generally poor, making it difficult to raise the money needed to buy advertising in its media markets of Macon, Columbus, Albany and Tallahassee, Fla. “That’s expensive,” Carroll said.

Duke recently reported his campaign account had $4,256 cash on hand. Childs does not appear to have filed with the Federal Election Commission, an act required when a candidate raises more than $5,000. In other words, neither of Bishop’s Republican challengers appears to have much money. Bishop reported having more than $300,000.

Another major congressional district for Middle Georgia is the 10th, which is being vacated by Paul Broun, R-Athens, who is running for U.S. Senate. The 10th runs to Georgia’s northeast corner, but includes Butts, Jasper, Putnam and Baldwin counties.

Grant said the candidates for the 10th are going to vary between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives.

Bullock said the race will be effectively over in a matter of months.

“It’s one of the most Republican districts in the nation. ... It will almost certainly go to a runoff, then whoever wins in the runoff, other than some kind of catastrophic runoff, will be the next member of Congress in the district,” he predicted.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan website Ballotpedia lists eight Republican contenders for the race. A single Democrat, an Athens lawyer, is listed. He has about $3,700 for the race.

None of the partisan races will be finalized until qualifying ends at noon Friday.

The primary election is scheduled for May 20, with a runoff scheduled for July 22.

A federal judge ordered earlier dates for federal elections, and state legislators changed state and local election dates to match. That leaves the primary election season about two months shorter and that much more important.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.


Georgia's congressional districts

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