Suddenly awarded the status of an endangered species, U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Savannah – the last white Democratic member of Congress from the Deep South – is a man getting a lot of attention.
My AJC colleague Daniel Malloy in Washington was on the phone with Barrow on Wednesday afternoon, even as the state Legislature was handing him a newly drawn 12th District they hope will result in his ouster from Congress.
“This isn’t the first time that politicians in the state house have redrawn these districts in an attempt to reverse the outcome of my election, and I don’t suspect this will be the last,” the five-term congressman said.
The new 12th District is much more hostile for Barrow. According to an AJC analysis, Republicans have given themselves a 20-point advantage in the new district, in part by removing Chatham County and Savannah. The African-American voting population has been decreased from 42 percent to 33 percent.
Barrow said the shift does not bother him.
“I plan to run as the kind of Democrat that I’ve always been,” he said. “Someone that puts the interests of his district ahead of either team in Congress. I work with folks on all sides.”
Barrow, a Blue Dog Democrat who has voted against his party on such major items as the health care reform law, said his independent streak is well-known to voters in his new district — who adjoin his current one. He said he intends to keep up his current practice of getting out and introducing himself to as many people as possible.
Barrow hasn’t decided on a new residence, though it’s clear that he’ll have to move out of Savannah. (Republicans forced him to move from his native Athens in 2006.)
The congressman declined to address the racial polarization represented by the new Georgia congressional map, which, if it accomplishes Republicans’ stated goal, will transform Georgia’s delegation into 10 white Republicans and four black Democrats. But Barrow did point a finger at politically minded redistricting as a root cause for ideological polarization in Washington.
“This process at the state level is driving excessive partisanship at the national level,” he said. “The old saw is people hate Congress and love their congressman. What they don’t realize is there are subtle forces that make that happen. I suspect that congressmen today are probably more representative of their districts than anytime before. …
“It’s the districts that they represent are unrepresentative of the states and the country as a whole. That’s the real driving force.”
Over at the Savannah Morning News, Larry Peterson points out that Barrow has one advantage — $655,422 already tucked away for his re-election bid.
Politico.com, too, has delved into Barrow’s chances, interviewing not just Roy Barnes, but the fellow in charge of the former governor’s 2010 attempt to turn back the GOP tide:
Chris Carpenter, a Democratic consultant in the state and former top Barnes aide, predicted that Barrow would focus narrowly on local issues and seek to paint himself as independent of a national Democratic Party that is out of favor in his more GOP-oriented district.
“He will have to run as independent of Obama,” said Carpenter. “He’s going to try to make the race as local as possible.”
Keith Mason, a former chief of staff to ex-Georgia Gov. Zell Miller who has known Barrow for nearly three decades, said the congressman’s conservative record had helped him survive in the past – and that it could again in 2012. Running from the center, said Mason, would make a “compelling” message for Barrow.
“The fact that he withstood a challenge from the left helped him withstand a challenge from the right in the general,” he said.
Now, for the sticklers: Some of you have questioned Barrow’s status as the last white Democrat from the Deep South, noting that North Carolina has three white Democratic members of Congress. Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
The Deep South is a descriptive category of the cultural and geographic subregions in the American South. Historically, it is differentiated from the “Upper South” as being the states which were most dependent on plantation type agriculture during the pre-Civil War period. The Deep South was also commonly referred to as the Lower South or the “Cotton States.”
North Carolina is in what’s considered the Upper South.
Three state lawmakers on Wednesday appeared at the side of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain at the state Capitol.
The Cain campaign, in the press release that followed, awarded the trio with the description of “key.” Which could work, depending on the lock involved.
All are fine and upstanding fellows, but one wouldn’t normally consider them ranking members of the General Assembly.
State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is a freshman, and state Rep. Rusty Kidd of Milledgeville is an independent with no leadership duties. State Rep. Billy Maddox, R-Zebulon, is the only one of the three with a committee to call his own. It is in charge of code revisions.
Cain, whose campaign headquarters is in Stockbridge, also noted that the candidate dropped in to converse with Gov. Nathan Deal and a “Lt. Gov. Casey Kagle.” Who might be related to that radio guy, Casey Kasem.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider