Roy Barnes bets his campaign on rural Georgia

Last Tuesday night, for the third time, Roy Barnes won the Democratic nomination for governor.

With 66 percent of the primary vote in his pocket, the former resident of the Governor’s Mansion held up the front page of that day’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The lead headline, “State falls further behind,” was a reference to school test scores.

Roy Barnes greets supporters on Tuesday night -- before leaving for rural Georgia. Associated Press/John Bazemore

Roy Barnes greets supporters on Tuesday night -- before leaving for rural Georgia. Associated Press/John Bazemore

Barnes thanked his supporters, complimented his defeated opponents, and condemned Republicans who “gave tax breaks to special interests and then had to lay off teachers and shorten the school year to cover up their mistakes.”

And then he dropped off the face of metro Atlanta.

Not even an Aug. 2 visit to Atlanta by President Barack Obama will bring Barnes back. “He’s going to be in Middle and South Georgia,” campaign manager Chris Carpenter said Saturday.

Barnes has bet his campaign on rural Georgia — the one that turned its back on him in 2002 for his removal of the Confederate battle emblem from its place on the state flag.

“Roy Barnes told me about six months ago that if he wins this election he’ll have to win it south of Macon,” said Bobby Rowan, a former state senator and former member of the Public Service Commission.

On Saturday, Rowan was one of the organizers of a 12-county rally featuring Barnes, held in the little town of Enigma, just east of Tifton.
Rowan calls his hometown a “depressed agricultural mecca.”

“It’s sad down here,” he said in advance of the Saturday bash. Ingredients for what Rowan insisted was a bipartisan event included bottled iced water, iced tea, lemonade, watermelon and boiled peanuts.

“We’ve got some little girls that’s wearing T-shirts that say ‘Barnes chicks.’ They’re going to pass out 1,500 of these ol’ church fans,” Rowan said. “The last time something like this was had down in South Georgia was when Carl Sanders took on Marvin Griffin. That was 1962.”

That was the same year Rowan, now 75, was first elected to the state Senate.

But Rowan, known for his poetic drawl and populist style, was exaggerating. The last time we saw a gubernatorial campaign like this was in 2002.

A Democrat-turned-Republican state senator named Sonny Perdue picked out 70 counties in rural Georgia that, four years earlier, had voted for both Barnes and U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, a Republican.

While the Roy Barnes of 2002 worked from Atlanta and hardly ever shed his business suit, each Friday night would see Perdue on the sidelines of several South Georgia high school football games, shaking hands and slapping backs.

Those rural swing counties and a promise to put the 1956 state flag and its Confederate battle emblem up for a statewide vote formed the core of the effort that made Perdue the first Republican governor in 130 years.

Carpenter, the Barnes campaign manager, acknowledged strategic similarities between the Perdue campaign of 2002 and the Barnes campaign of 2010. “We’ve taken our campaign all across the state. Roy’s been to over 90 counties,” he said.

In last week’s balloting, Republican voters cast twice as many ballots as Democrats. But the Barnes campaign doesn’t believe the GOP grasp on rural Georgia is as strong as many think.

Carpenter is a great believer in maps. One of those on the wall of the campaign manager’s Marietta office shows the Georgia counties with Democratic sheriffs — 108 of 159.

The majority of these Democratic sheriffs work below the gnat line.

While it has a Republican sheriff, Berrien County — home to Enigma — is one of those counties that voted for Barnes in 1998, then swung to Perdue in 2002.

Rowan thinks his county is ready to swing again.

Neither Nathan Deal nor Karen Handel, the two Republicans left in the race for governor, has paid Berrien County a visit. Eric Johnson of Savannah won the Republican side of the primary in Berrien, followed by John Oxendine.

Rowan doesn’t think party labels will matter in November.

“We frankly don’t care anymore,” he said. “Partisan politics has passed us. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Roy Barnes could roll up a 60 to 70 percent win in our county.”

Margins of that size, reached in multiple rural counties, could offset balloting from the Republican-dominated counties of metro Atlanta. A heavy turnout for Barnes in rural Georgia would essentially crack the super-majority of white voters required for statewide GOP victories.

Rowan said the Confederate enthusiasts who dogged Barnes throughout the 2002 campaign are no longer a concern. “Sonny promised them a vote. They know they ain’t never getting a vote,” Rowan said.

But it is the economy of South Georgia that has leveled the playing field, the former legislator said.

“This whole election, it ain’t about a $3 tag, it ain’t about a chicken in every pot. It’s about a job for every man that’ll work. That’s the issue,” Rowan said.

He told of an unemployed friend who’d recently confessed that, while his neighbors thought him prosperous, he was about to lose his house.

“That man is not Republican or Democrat. He’s a human being,” Rowan said. “But if you make him a promise, and he believes you might can help him, that’s where his vote’s going.

“He won’t even slow down to think about Republicans or Democrats. It’s too late for that,” Rowan said.

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141 comments Add your comment


July 24th, 2010
7:45 pm

As a resident of Peach County, Georgia (Fort Valley), Mr. Barnes has some serious bridge rebuidling to do. Frankly, we don’t know which Roy Barnes would be the Governor. The teachers for one are not thrilled with him and seeing his mansion on Dallas Highway clearly sets him up as “not one of us”.

This is a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s personnal.

Galloway is in the bag for Barnes

July 24th, 2010
7:47 pm

AJC Editors — wake up!!! Go back and read Galloway’s posts during this election so far. He is Propagander In Chief for Barnes. This is just the latest of suck up pieces. Is he angling for a job in the Barnes administration or what??

Dirk Digler

July 24th, 2010
8:01 pm

You republicans keep gettin fleeced by the people you send to office. Didn’t get a referendum on the flag, had 8 years in a solidly republican legislature and couldn’t get any of that tax reform Deal and Handel been yapping about. Face it, you’re either going to get screwed by Deal or elect a lightweight in Handel that’s even worse than Palin.

Barnes is the clear choice for any sane person. But this is Georgia.

She's Not There

July 24th, 2010
8:04 pm

I love you, Mr. Rowan, but Berrien County is filled to the brim with partisan politics.

All the rural counties are. While they continued to vote for Democrats at the local and state level until about 10 years ago, it only means there was a change in what was considered Republican and what was considered Democrat (or more accurately, Dixiecrat). The Southern Strategy in particular was very effective.

Speaking to jobs doesn’t work as well as speaking to fears.

I wish it were different. I wish we could sit down and talk about what matters most to our communities, but bipartisanship is like that sighting of Bigfoot a few months ago down near Ray City. You wonder about the people who claim to have seen it and realize it’s likely a myth.

I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a good turnout, though. But I have a feeling this like the get-togethers Marvin Griffin would host where one his aides said after the election, “Someone’s been eating Marvin’s barbecue and not voting for him.”


July 24th, 2010
8:06 pm

barnes will do alot better in rural ga this yr. as for the bridge building he has rebuilt 85% of that bridge and if the showing today down in enigma is any indication he will be the next gov of this state. he has alot of white male support in rural ga and the team he has put together for rural ga is top notch. rural ga is not a lock for republicans that’s very true. in a poll taken recently by macon telegraph 62% of south georgians say the economy, financial serurity and jobs are their main concerns.
barnes has visited twin city, eastman, swainsboro, reynolds since the primary win.

Overall viewpoint

July 24th, 2010
8:08 pm

As I said before in another blog;if the election is between Handel and Barnes in November,Barnes will be the next Governor.A large amount of counties below Macon will vote for Barnes and not Handel.Good ole boys will vote for a man before a women regardless of what party they support.That’s the way it is period!!! She will carry some metro areas,but the numbers will be against her.A Deal and Barnes election will be about party lines and philosophy.Another out side the box view says large corporations will start donating funds to the Barnes campaign over the next few weeks! They really want Barnes to win.May not say it ,but action is louder than words.

The Cynical White Boy

July 24th, 2010
8:31 pm

I believe all of this rural Georgia talk is just Roy Barnes-Bobby Kahn smoke and mirrors stuff.

Democrats don’t care about rural Georgia – they don’t have to.

Statewide Democrats run in Metro Atlanta, Columbus, Savannah, Augusta, and Macon. In fact, they concentrate on Fulton, Dekalb and Clayton for the most part.

But then, you wouldn’t expect the truth about the King and his Knave (Kahn) from any of the big city newspapers.

dunwoody guy

July 24th, 2010
8:46 pm

Mr. Barnes is a typical two-faced Georgia politician. His reminds me of the Joe Isuzu guy. He and his law firm managed to leverage a rolling tab of taxpayer dollars (in the hundreds of thousands) to hamstring Dunwoody’s annexation from the corrupt Dekalb “kickback” County,

I don’t want him and his cronies stealing from children anymore.

Baldemar Huerta

July 24th, 2010
8:47 pm

2 words: Denny’s Place-mat.

Not educated beyond my intelligence

July 24th, 2010
8:51 pm

I live in rural county smack dab in the middle of South Georgia. I am sick to death of Sonny and his boys who haven’t done a dang thing for us in 8 years (except build a nice fishin’ hole in Houston County). I am voting for Roy Barnes and I’ll tell you a lot more of the folks in his part of the state are to.

4 Jacks

July 24th, 2010
8:58 pm

And you democrats keep espousing your rhetoric against republicans while Obama and the dems force their agenda onto a nation that is clearly against alot of what he is selling. Ole Roy is just the same, will say anything to get elected. I grew up in Mableton, went to school with some of ole Roy’s family at dear ole South Cobb High. This is the last guy we need running this state. I am neither dem or republican, but will follow the tea party canidates as it is high time we as a people start taking OUR country back and see if we can find some people who want to SERVE people, instead of the career politicians that only serve their interest. At least the tea party canidates seem to want to serve the people, something that good ole Roy never did or cared about. To you dems that are critical of everything none dem, the reason alot of us vote repub is because of you forcing your ideals on a populace that is not in agreement with you in alot of cases, and your canidates offer us nothing in the way of compromise. It is why I vote against you most times, your canidates give me no choice.


July 24th, 2010
9:05 pm

If it’s true, the most important quote in the story is “partisan politics has passed us.” That’s how Barnes has to run, and that’s how the state needs to proceed. If elected, Barnes will probably face Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Everyone will need to figure out how to arrive at solutions together, or everyone will look bad. It took Clinton and the post -1994 GOP Congress one bad year to learn this, after which they did pretty well at compromise. Barnes is smart enough not to waste a year. He needs to make clear in his campaign and then as governor that the future of Georgia comes first for him, not political party, and that he is eager to work with whoever feels similarly.


July 24th, 2010
9:08 pm



July 24th, 2010
9:27 pm

Am I the only one thats offended by Barnes latest Ad? You know the one where he says the country laughs at Georgia. And then insinuates that he’s the only one that can save us from ourselves?


July 24th, 2010
9:34 pm

“This whole election, it ain’t about a $3 tag, it ain’t about a chicken in every pot. It’s about a job for every man that’ll work. That’s the issue,” Rowan said.

Bobby Rowan is right. The good people of Berrien County, along with the rest of rural Georgia, will be looking at the candidate that will bring established businesses to Georgia and provide an economic environment suitable for the growth of small businesses. This, in turn, will create those jobs we so desperately need.

We now have three candidates to choose from. After August 10th, we will only have two. We need to take the time to review each candidates economic plan, qualifications, and history. Sound bites aren’t enough. This country voted in the 2008 Presidential Election based on sound bites only, remember? We all know how that’s working out……..

artesian jacket

July 24th, 2010
9:50 pm

This election will be won or lost not in the cities or in rural georgia but in so called second tier counties like Paulding, Henry, and Forsyth. These counties have exploded in population and are likely as not, to vote Republican.


July 24th, 2010
9:51 pm



July 24th, 2010
9:58 pm

Hey y’all,

Guess what else is at stake? Georgia is going to get an additional congressional seat after this census – it was going to be a Republican lock but if Barnes gets elected I do not think so!

Johns Creek

July 24th, 2010
9:59 pm

ARe Georgians going to forget that Roy Barnes is an arrogant individual who thinks he is always right and the rest of us are to dumb to know better. I lived through Roy Barnes last turn at Governor, and anyone other than Barnes is the better choice when it comes time to vote.

My own two cents

July 24th, 2010
10:21 pm

Even if Roy Barnes gets elected, the General Assembly will most likely stay Republican, so he will probably not get much done.


July 24th, 2010
10:31 pm

I typically vote for the person, not the party. I’ve voted for republicans and democrats in the last few elections. But honestly, I just can’t see this as anything other than a slow win for Barnes. Handel is clearly out of her league here – she may be a nice person but she is not a person who has the capabilities to be a good governor. Deal is a stereotypical self-promoting politician – I would not believe he is in this for anything other than ego and self-interest. And I HATE that he had his grandsons in the exploitive ad. gross.

Barnes is not perfect, but I believe he has good intentions. I believe he is capable of doing the job in these difficult economic circumstances. he’ll get my vote, and a lot of other independents’ votes too.


July 24th, 2010
10:33 pm

AND, I’m just putting this out there. I don’t want to hear one more word about abortion, gay rights or any other moral righteousness. Talk to me about jobs and schools and the water problem. Keep your religion to yourself, and I’ll do the same. Thanks.


July 24th, 2010
10:53 pm

AnnaGrace, I was going to say the same thing. Thank you for saying it for me and better. These things are “non-issues”, so hush about them. Quit trying to run peoples’ private lives. If this is a person’s only agenda, he/she does not need to be elected. By the way, I am an elected official.


July 24th, 2010
11:00 pm

As a teacher who did not vote for Barnes the last time, I can tell you he got the message. I have heard Mr. Barnes speak and I have talked to him one on one and I can tell you the man knows he screwed up. More importantantly, he has ways to get GA back on track with jobs and with education. I know you can not read this and take my word for it, but I will be supporting him in the next election. Just listen to what he says, and if you have a question…ask him. He will give you answers and you can decide for yourself. Throw out democrats and republicans and listent to what they have to say and how they think they can help our state. That’s all you can do.


July 24th, 2010
11:12 pm

Barnes is the clear choice for any sane person. But this is Georgia.

I completely agree. Barnes is the only wise choice, but like you said, this is Georgia and since this state has become so red, I would say we’re anything but wise (and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who was born, raised and has lived in this state all of her life with the exception of 2 1/2 years), so unfortunately I believe that either Deal or Handel (depending on who wins the GOP nomination) will win the race. Sad, but most likely true.

No Deal

July 24th, 2010
11:38 pm

Randy said: Am I the only one thats offended by Barnes latest Ad? You know the one where he says the country laughs at Georgia. Reply: Randy you may be offended, but it’s true. My wife and I take a cruise every year, and people really let me know what they think of Georgia and it’s not pretty.


July 24th, 2010
11:59 pm

It’s really not appropriate to dismiss abortion as a “non-issue.” If a voter is convinced by religious faith, ultrasound, DNA, or any other grounds that an unborn child is something other than a blob of tissue, then there is a moral distinction between an elective abortion and an appendectomy.

Since this column dealt with rural Georgia, let’s use a rural analogy. Every hunter knows that it is illegal and unethical to fire at moving brush without being sure it’s not a human target first. If he/she accidentally fires on another human being, there are legal and ethical consequences. No state would stand the shooting of hundreds of human beings every year on the grounds that “I thought it was a deer.” In a similar way, ethics and legality should mandate that we don’t kill hundreds or thousands of human beings every year on the grounds that “I thought it was just a lump of tissue.” We don’t open fire or suction tubes on human beings without other ethical considerations (saving lives) coming into play.

Bobby Anthony

July 25th, 2010
12:10 am

This South Georgia boy will not vote for Barnes.

artesian jacket

July 25th, 2010
12:11 am

And who was it that made Michigan the oasis of prosperity that it is today? Democrats and their union allies. No thank you, I don’t want Democrats of the national or local variety. Thank you very much.


July 25th, 2010
12:13 am

The Statue of Liberty is in the middle of New York harbor. Not on the right shore or the left shore but in the middle. Lady Liberty stands in the middle. It is not New York or New Jersey but both can enjoy her beacon of American Liberty. Roy is the only candidate I’ve heard who is denouncing both extremes and calling for common sense.

No Longer Republican

July 25th, 2010
12:34 am

Artesian Jacket…Forsyth won’t vote Republican??????? Are you frickin serious??? It is the MOST repoblican county in the state, maybe the entire nation, I live there. No chance in the world Barnes will carry Forsyth. Nada, zip, none. Thats why Barnes is smart to focus on counties outside of metro Atlanta. Barnes will win in Fulton, Dekalb and Clayton. The other counties that make up metro Atlanta are HEAVY repiblican and will vote for anyone with a (R) next to their name without even thinking about it. The counties in south Georgia are not that certain for any party. Barnes has a good strategy. I for one was so excited when Perdue beat Barnes in 2002. Now after 8 years of this crap I’m hoping Barnes can find his way back to the Governor’s mansion. I didn’t vote for him last week, but since he won, he has got be better than Handel or Deal.

No Longer Republican

July 25th, 2010
12:39 am

And rc35, we’ve been voting for the last several election cycles based on the social issues such as gay marraige and abortion. This is a FREE country and our personal lives should not be controlled by the government or your religion. All of these people who vote simply on social issues because they hate gays or oppose abortion have been instrumental in creating the absolute mess we have simply because they vote on issues that won’t ever be decided and make no difference in the vast majority of people’s everyday lives. It is time to get over it and move on. People with survival issues and children with a lousy education system should be our top priority, not who is marrying who or who has made a choice you don’t like.

Baldemar Huerta

July 25th, 2010
1:04 am

If teachers are stupid enough to vote for King Roy, they have no business teaching anybody. Teachers are useless scum.


July 25th, 2010
1:12 am

No Deal: I may be an ignant Georgian but even I know that it’s not smart to insult the people that you want voting for you. King Roy’s egotistical attitude is what got him beat last time.

King Rat

July 25th, 2010
1:30 am

King Rat note to self: Make sure you aren’t within 200 miles of Atlanta when Obama comes to town. Turn off all electrical devices in case he tries to track you down. Also, send shoes to Galloway to be shined and returned by Tuesday appearance.

Teacher who remembers

July 25th, 2010
1:39 am

Here in the metro area, we got Fair Dismissal back after King Rat took it away. Rural counties–did not; will they go for him again? Without Fair Dismissal, it will be so easy to downsize teachers; no reason needed.

Teachers–you know we are not 48th in anything. Good things are happening and people don’t know. Only bad news makes the headlines. King Rat as Gov again would be bad news. Even GAE would not endorse him!


July 25th, 2010
2:03 am

The Republicans will try to connect Roy with the President. They will also bring up the social issues! They can’t win if the focus is on new business, jobs and education. If Roy sticks to those issues and once in a while reminds us of Sonny (just not too often) then he can win.


July 25th, 2010
4:27 am

@rc35 – “It’s really not appropriate to dismiss abortion as a “non-issue.” If a voter is convinced by religious faith, ultrasound, DNA, or any other grounds that an unborn child is something other than a blob of tissue, then there is a moral distinction between an elective abortion and an appendectomy.”

It is appropriate to dismiss abortion as a non-issue because it is nothing which is going to be changed or dealt with in the next four years. More to the point, if it was an issue that someone wanted to change the status quo, it would be a huge turn off from voting for them as right now, we need people who will focus on job creation and economic viability, not stopping gays from marrying and preventing abortions.

Can we please stop pretending?

July 25th, 2010
5:07 am

Roy Barnes needs to talk to the guy up in Virginia that lost to the Republican for Governor. Similar to Barnes, he too thought it was ok to alienate African-American and Latino voters in his state. They stayed home and it wasn’t a good night for him.

He might also want to check with the lady up further in Massachusetts who also thought she could take core Democratic voters for granted and she lost to a male centerfold model.

The Democratic Party’s playbook is really quite simple:

1.Leave the social issues alone as much as possible.
2.Realize that the Democratic coalition is multicultural and metropolitan. You need to win the African American/Latino/Asian vote big, and about 22-25% of the White vote which can be done if you reach out to young people and working class people.

The state eligible pool of voters is becoming younger, less white, and less interested in the culture wars.

So run away from Obama all you’d like, but his numbers are still quite high among voterss of color and young people of all races. Doesn’t seem very smart to me especially if Barnes tries to send Clinton in here to beg for the votes he’s to scarred to ask for.

The Democratic Party in this state is really sad and is the best thing the Republican Party has going for it.


July 25th, 2010
5:34 am

I see all the comments on this article as a mini-poll on the gubernatorial election. Some of them are very thoughtful and loaded with political realism. Therefore, I am predicting a Barnes win, possibly not even close.

Bitter EX democrackkk

July 25th, 2010
6:51 am

Hey Scott, um, North Carolina is under siege by ravenous democrackkks who have corrupted it for over 150+ years of total domination. Democrackkks have RUINED NC! Watch out Georgia, DONT let it happen to YOU! YOU can do BETTER than Royal Barnes!

Bitter EX democrackkk

July 25th, 2010
6:52 am

Karen Handel is the ONLY CHOICE for SENSIBLE Georgians! Are YOU SENSIBLE???

GI Dolly...

July 25th, 2010
7:33 am

Old King Roy was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he. His best friend during his gov. years was cynthia mckinney. He changed our flag, because it might offend. He is a draft dodger. Sonny was a democrat during the clinton years. Let’s not forget the gerrymandered districts that a federal judge threw out.

Bitter EX republiklan

July 25th, 2010
7:38 am

SENSIBLE? Handel and Deal are arguing over abortion and gay rights. These were settled years ago with constitutional amendments. What about the issues now? Unemployment, funding of k-12 schools, transportation, and much, much more. Their only answer: more tax exemptions for corporations.


July 25th, 2010
7:43 am

There is a locker room vernacular for this piece – Barnes goes to rural GA because they still respect former Governors. He gets to preen and drawl and good ol boy his way along . . . and its better than having to explain how he’s different from Obama who will probably give a nice eulogy for the former Governor’s campaign as soon as the Republicans bury him again.

Retired English Teacher

July 25th, 2010
7:45 am

GI Dolly- I would have to give you a grade of D- on your comments. Look back on your notes that you took in Remedial English class in HS. Please rework and submit please.

GI Dolly...

July 25th, 2010
7:56 am

learnt and edumacated in clayton county schools, and earnt me a deploma. Yeah, ME!!!!!!!!!!!

The Real Politico

July 25th, 2010
8:02 am

I have yet to hear any specific plans Deal has for the state. Any questions posed to him are always answered with generalities. Yet people are willing to vote for him.
Republicans continue to be strange.


July 25th, 2010
8:04 am

I ain’t sure who I’m votin’ for yet. My ideal candidate would bring back Marta tokens. I got a lot of money invested in them things and now the bus driver say they can’t take ‘em! It say right there on the token “good for one ride”. Word is bond, and them words say I can get on this bus with my token! Bus drivers be treatin’ tokens like they some kind of play money. I spent greenbacks on these tokens, and now I can’t even get to the store with ‘em.

The Real Politico

July 25th, 2010
8:07 am

martabusplaya-So now we have Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express on the blog.
Go figure.