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Blog Home Page --> House -- Georgia -- 12

Georgia Incumbents Win

Despite what looked like spirited challenges, two Georgia incumbents easily won their primaries last night, likely guaranteeing them a seat in the 111th Congress, while Republicans got the candidates they wanted in two runoffs in Alabama.

In the northern Tenth District, freshman Republican Paul Broun, who has been in Congress for just a year, took 71% of the vote to knock off State Rep. Barry Fleming. Broun will face Democratic nominee Bobby Saxton, an Iraq war veteran, in November, but in a district that gave President Bush a thirty-point win, he is expected to coast to victory.

South of Broun's district, in a seat that encompasses both Savannah and Augusta, two-term Rep. John Barrow survived a primary challenge with surprising ease, as many suspected State Senator Regina Thomas, who is African American, would have a good chance to knock off Barrow in a 45%-black district. But Barrow, who got help in the form of a radio ad featuring Barack Obama, won a wide 76%-24% victory. He will face former Congressional aide John Stone in November.

Democrats came a step closer to settling on a Senate candidate to take on Republican Saxby Chambliss, as well. DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones led the Democratic field, taking 40% of the vote, while former State Rep. Jim Martin finished second, with 34%. The two will head to a runoff on August 5, though polls have showed Chambliss easily leading both candidates.

Runoffs can be costly politically. In Alabama, two Republicans who came through runoffs last night start in a hole now, having to scramble to catch up to Democratic nominees who settled their races months ago.

With the retirement of Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, Republicans have a shot to take back a seat that votes heavily for their candidates on a presidential level. President Bush won the northern Fifth District by twenty one points in 2004, but Cramer, who held the seat for eighteen years, never had a serious battle for re-election. This year, State Senator Parker Griffith won the Democratic nomination early, while advertising executive Wayne Parker had to wait until last night to secure the GOP nod. He beat attorney Cheryl Guthrie by a whopping 79%-21% margin.

Farther south, Democrats actually have a shot to pick up a Republican-held seat based in and around Montgomery and vacated by Republican Terry Everett. Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright cleared the Democratic field, while State Rep. Jay Love and State Senator Harri Anne Smith had to fight over the Republican nomination that was decided yesterday. Love, who spent heavily out of his own wallet, won a surprisingly close 53% to 47% margin. The two nominees will face off in what will be one of the most closely-watched races in the South.

Georgia On Voters' Minds

Votes in Georgia head to the polls today to pick nominees for November's elections, and at least two incumbents could find themselves in serious trouble by the end of the night. In neighboring districts bordering South Carolina, Reps. John Barrow, a Democrat, and Paul Broun, a Republican, face challengers who could give them a run for their money.

In Barrow's Twelfth District, which encompasses Savannah in the south and Augusta up north, it's usually Republicans who have given the two-term congressman heartburn. Barrow narrowly defeated Rep. Max Burns in 2004, one of Democrats' few bright spots that year, even as President Bush won a 2,600-vote majority in the district, and held Burns off by a mere 900 votes in 2006.

This year, it is a Democrat who is giving Barrow a race. State Senator Regina Thomas has won support from some in the netroots community who criticize Barrow for being too conservative. Through the June 30 pre-primary deadline, Thomas had raised just $26,000 as compared with the $1.65 million Barrow had on hand.

But Barrow faces a racial problem, as well. A white Democrat, Barrow represents a district that is 45% African American, and Thomas, who represents Savannah in the state legislature, is black. Despite Thomas' lack of funding, she's worrying Barrow enough that he's run radio advertisements featuring an endorsement from Barack Obama, one of the few races the presumptive nominee has become personally involved in.

Barrow's colleague, freshman Republican Broun, faces his own challenge in today's primary from State Rep. Barry Fleming, as Greg Bobrinskoy wrote last week. Broun, who replaced the late Rep. Charlie Norwood in a surprise upset last year, is favored to win, though his could be a close race as well.

Georgia voters are also picking a Democrat to take on Senator Saxby Chambliss, and though polls show the first-term Republican easily handling any of his potential foes, five candidates are still fighting for the chance to face him in November.

National Democrats favor Jim Martin, a former State Representative who ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2006. Vernon Jones, the DeKalb County CEO, has led several primary polls, while former television reporter Dale Cardwell looks like he's advancing in polls as well. Businessmen Rand Knight and Josh Lanier trail the top three candidates.

Through the pre-primary filing deadline, both Martin ($775,000) and Jones ($640,000) had raised respectable sums, but each campaign treasury is dwarfed by Chambliss' $4 million cash on hand. While Democrats have a good shot at winning a number of other Senate seats, their hopes for taking back Georgia's seems remote.

Barrow Hit From The Left

Georgia Rep. John Barrow faces a dilemma many Democrats in moderate districts often confront: a primary challenge from the left. Barrow's voting record places him in the middle of the House. Likewise, his district, which was redrawn in 2005, has been decided by less than 9,000 votes combined in the last two presidential elections.

In his bid for a third term, Barrow is facing State Senator Regina Thomas in the July 15 primary. In a Tuesday night debate, Thomas called herself the "true Democrat" and attacked Barrow for votes he cast on issues such as the Iraq war, tax cuts and most recently, the updating of FISA. "The incumbent has always voted with Bush and the Republicans, and look at where we are," Thomas said, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Thomas hit Barrow on another issue incumbents on both sides of the aisle will face in primaries and general elections this year: gas prices. "This gas crisis did not just come about," Thomas said. "Being in Congress for four years and still talking about what you're going do, it should have already been done."

When Barrow first ran for the seat in 2004, the district included his hometown of Athens, located about 70 miles east of Atlanta. That year Barrow was one of only two challengers in the country to knock off a Republican incumbent. Then in 2005, redistricting moved Athens into the Tenth District, a heavily Republican area of the state that Republican Charlie Norwood had represented since 1994. Most of Barrow's district remained in the Twelfth, however, so Barrow made the strategic decision to move to Savannah and run for re-election in his district in 2006. That year he came closer to losing re-election than any other Democrat in the country, winning by less than 900 votes in his second consecutive defeat of Max Burns.

With both candidates hailing from the same city, the primary won't turn into a geographical divide as previous contests have (such as the 2007 special election in Georgia's Tenth District). However, Thomas has represented Savannah, the largest city in the district, in the state Senate since 2000, while Barrow is still in just his second term in Congress. Whoever wins the primary will likely receive a boost from the Democrat at the top of the ticket: Barack Obama. The Twelfth is a moderate district where 45% of the population is black.

--Kyle Trygstad

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.