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« Morning Thoughts: Now What? | Blog Home Page | FEC Reports -- The End »

Barrow To Face Primary

While Republicans did not win a single Democratic-held seat in 2006, they came awfully close in Georgia's Twelfth District, where Rep. John Barrow, running for his second term, beat out an old rival by fewer than 900 votes. Now, Barrow will face what could be a strong Democratic state legislator in Georgia's July 15 primary. Barrow could find that, while Republicans came close, it's his own party that would prove most dangerous.

Barrow's time in Congress has not been easy. His district, which runs along the border with South Carolina and includes all of Savannah, in the south, and parts of Augusta, in the north, gave him just an 8,000-vote win in 2004 -- though that came as President Bush won the seat by about 2,500 votes -- and his 2006 rematch with Max Burns, the Republican incumbent he had beaten the previous cycle, was the closest any Republican came to ousting a Democrat that year.

Burns spent nearly $2.8 million on the 2004 race, outpacing Barrow by almost $1 million, and $2.17 million in 2006, staying competitive with the incumbent Democrat. This year, no serious financial threat has emerged; conservative activist and former Burns aide John Stone had just $42,800 in the bank through the end of March, compared with $1.3 million for Barrow.

Enter State Senator Regina Thomas, who represents Savannah in the state legislature and has three months to overcome Barrow's name recognition in the rest of the district before Democrats vote in the primary. Thomas represents by far the biggest county in the district; Chantham County residents made up just less than one-quarter of the total vote and gave Barrow a nearly 8,000 vote cushion against Burns in 2006. Barrow lived in Athens until redistricting moved the border, and since then he's moved to Savannah. meaning Thomas has deeper roots than Barrow in the vote-heavy county.

Thomas has one other advantage that Barrow will have to overcome: A majority of the votes in the Democratic primary will be cast by African Americans, especially in and around Savannah, and Thomas is African American. So are 45% of district residents.

Facing an African American politician with deep roots in a major voting base, the white incumbent who just moved in could have a tough time keeping his seat. Barrow has the money to compete, but without a Republican challenger in the race on par with Burns, Barrow would have liked to have saved that money for the next time around. Instead, he'll have to use it just to secure his own party's nomination for the Fall.