GOP Targets Vulnerable Georgia Democrat

The National Republican Congressional Committee is pumping millions into ads that target vulnerable Democrats, among them John Barrow. He is the last white Blue Dog Democrat from the Deep South. His district will be even harder for the Democrat to win this time because of redistricting and strong anti-Obama sentiment. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We turn our attention now to the state of Georgia, where a self-described moderate Democrat is trying to win re-election in a district that now favors Republicans. John Barrow is facing a relatively unknown GOP candidate in the 12th Congressional District that's recently been redrawn. National Republicans see Barrow as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House, and they're targeting him with millions of dollars in ads.

NPR's Kathy Lohr has the story.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Barrow's district has changed twice since 2004 when he was first elected to Congress. And he's moved twice to live within its boundaries.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BARROW: The trouble is there's so few moderates and centrists left in the House. because this gerrymandering process has kind of drawn moderate and centrist districts out of the political landscape.

LOHR: Barrow is running a series of TV ads to highlight his independent record.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

BARROW: I'm John Barrow. Some people like me. Some people don't. Kemp Jones collects guns. He likes my A-rating with the NRA. Democrats in Washington don't. Jimmy Johnson likes that I voted against plan to privatize Medicare. Republicans in Washington don't...

LOHR: The Democrat voted against President Obama's health care bill and did not join the Republicans in the vote to repeal it. Barrow defends both decisions.

BARROW: It was my policy in the former administration to support the former administration when I thought President Bush was right and oppose him when I thought he was wrong. That's my policy with this administration. And it's my policy with the next president, whoever that may be. It's not just my policy. I think it's my obligation.

LOHR: The Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of moderates, have been around since the mid 1990s and at one point claimed 54 members. They've steadily lost power as the parties have become more divided with just two dozen left. This deeper political division has Republicans vying for the seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) No I stand my ground...

LOHR: In Swainsboro, Georgia third-generation farmer and former state legislator, Lee Anderson meets with about a dozen voters on his tractor tour.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE LEE ANDERSON: It's time to go to Washington and balance the budget. It's time to go to Washington and make it law that we balance the budget.

LOHR: The GOP candidate refuses to debate Barrow. Instead, he's trying to tie the Democrat to President Obama who's not a popular figure in rural Georgia.

ANDERSON: He will not go on TV and say I'm going to vote for Obama for president. I'm here to tell you, I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney for president. The people deserve the truth.

LOHR: House speaker John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor both have campaigned for Anderson. And the candidate is getting help from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is paying for TV ads like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: John Barrow doesn't get it. No, congressman, it is the point to middle class families who've seen their incomes decline under Obama.

BARROW: My support for the president is beside the point.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No, congressman, it is the point to middle class families who've seen their incomes decline under Obama.

MERLE BLACK: Well, John Barrow is in a tough fight for re-lection.

LOHR: Political science professor at Emory University, Merle Black says Barrow is walking a fine line.

BLACK: You had more than 20 Democrats lose their seats in 2010 across the South. And in the Deep South, John Barrow is the only remaining white Democrat in the states from Louisiana over to South Carolina, and his new seat is in jeopardy. He may survive. But even if he survives, it's a very unstable coalition that's going to return him to office.

LOHR: In Augusta, Georgia, the Madison Day Kitchen was serving up soul food during a recent lunch hour - turkey wings, dressing and black eyes peas. Some voters in this African-American traditionally Democratic neighborhood, like Charles Lyons, say they don't like the tenor of the campaign.

CHARLES LYONS: When your race is based on highlighting all of your opposition basically to the president, you're going to have some people see that and not want to vote for you. They're not going to vote for the other guy. But they may not vote for you, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

LOHR: It's attitudes like that among voters in his own party that explain Barrow's problem. And Republican voters, who now make up 55 percent of the district, say Barrow doesn't reflect their values either.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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