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JULY 13 - High Stakes Congressional Race Approaches in GA-12th

By Emily Mathis
SBJ Staff Report

July 13, 2010 – In one week, Democrats in Georgia’s 12th district will let Rep. John Barrow know the full ramifications of his vote again the health care reform bill, a vote closely followed by the business community as well as area voters. The health care legislation has significant financial impact for local corporations and small business owners, but also created a fire-storm of reaction within Democratic circles.

On March 21, Barrow, a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat seeking his fourth-term as representative of Georgia’s 12th district, was one of only 34 Democrats to vote against the Obama-backed health care reform that narrowly passed the House, before moving onto the Senate and then signed into law on March 23.

As the representative of a district with a poverty rate almost two times higher than the national average, Barrow’s vote was out of line with the majority of his constituents, in the opinion of local black political leaders. And the ensuing backlash has been far from kind, particularly from the black community, which makes up 44 percent of Barrow’s district, and the majority of the registered Democrats that will take a primary ballot on Tues. July 20.

"Most African Americans are under-insured or don't have insurance at all. They need it the most," said Georgia State Rep. Mickey Stephens, a black Democrat and former Barrow’s supporter from Savannah, in an interview with the Washington Examiner back in May. Stephens continued, "John didn't just turn his back. He turned his back and ducked on this vote,” he added.

Stephens’ remarks exemplify local anti-Barrow Democratic sentiments. The backlash to the vote was so severe that on June 1 Georgia Democratic chairwoman, Jane Kidd, sent out a letter to county chairmen in the 12th district essentially warning them to either quell their criticism of Barrow or resign from office. Kidd’s letter stated that state Democratic bylaws prohibit party officials from taking sides during an ongoing primary.

While some local Democratic leaders are remaining neutral – expressing their disdain by not getting actively involved in Barrow’s reelection - others such as Stephens are openly supporting his challenger, Regina Thomas, an African American woman and respected former State Senator who lost handily to Barrow in 2008. In that face-off, Barrow, armed with an endorsement from Obama, won 76 percent of the vote in the primary.

This time around, however, Barrow doesn’t have Obama’s help to get the African American vote to the polls though he has more than $1 million, according to to spend on TV ads which launched in late June. In comparison, OpenSecrets reported that Thomas had raised $21,279, just 1.8 percent of Barrow’s total.

But money can’t buy back voters’ faith, and in a year already prone to upsets, some think Thomas could pull out a win – or at least deliver a close primary.

“It’s just a crazy year this year. I think that in a normal year, she should not be a threat, but this year, Barrow should take her seriously because of the anti-incumbent feeling out there on the ground,” said Tom Baxter, a top political insider in Georgia and editor of the Southern Political Report, in a recent exclusive interview. “The people are looking at a broader range of candidates than you might normally see,” he added.

That range becomes evident when taking a look across the political aisle where Republicans Jeanne Seaver, Mike Horner, Ray McKinney, and Carl Smith are all vying for the chance to defeat Barrow or Thomas in November. Some would say that they smell blood in the water.

“I don’t think anyone has any idea what position they’re in,” Republican candidate hopeful and self-proclaimed working soccer mom, Jeanne Seaver said last week. “My gut tells me I’m going to win, of course,” she added.

Seaver, a businesswoman from Chatham County, is a political newbie and says she began campaigning full-time last Friday, employed full-time. She pointed to the fact that, unlike her competitors, she has not had the luxury to take time off to campaign.

Carl Smith, one of Seaver’s competitors, has recently found himself with extra time on his hands for campaign, but it was no gift by his employer. On June 9, Thunderbolt Town Council terminated Smith’s $52,000 a year position as Thunderbolt’s Fire Chief. The reasons behind the termination have publicly varied – officially its financial reasons, unofficially Smith took too much time off to campaign, and to Smith it’s all politically motivated. Smith is currently fighting the decision and hopes to be reinstated.

Still, Smith remains positive about his future, “Every straw poll except one, I’ve won, and by about 70 percent. So, I feel pretty good there, and I have about 50 to 60 endorsements from state officials, mayors, even Democratic officials, where as my opponents have maybe four or five. I feel I have the broadest support, and so I’m the most viable candidate to win the election in November,” Smith said.

But people from Ray McKinney’s camp, the only Republican candidate not from Chatham County, are saying its all talk right now. McKinney was born and raised in Effingham County, but currently resides in Toombs.

“He (Carl Smith) says he’s the frontrunner, we say we are,” McKinney’s campaign manger, David Cutbirth said.

Smith agreed that McKinney was his biggest challenger, “Mr. McKinney’s put in $100,000 of his own money. They’re out spending us to 10 to 1, so yeah… he’s trying to do something,” Smith said.

McKinney, a nuclear project manager and former Gulfstream employee who has been endorsed by the Augusta Tea Party and several individual tea party leaders, claims to have raised $100,000. No record of that exists, but with a TV spot just released this week, and several radio ads currently on air, McKinney doesn’t seem to be scrapping for change.

Smith, who has several radio ads out, has raised $39,000 for his campaign, more than half of which came from his own pocket, reports OpenSecrets also reports that Seaver has raised $22, 851, and there are no financial reports for Seavers’ fellow political rookie, Mike Horner.

Smith is running radio ads stating that he is a “professional firefighter, not a professional politician,” aiming at the anti-incumbent sentiment and voter.

Despite those ads, it may actually be Horner and not Smith that is non-professional politician. Horner, a retired Air Force Colonel, says he feels good about his campaign because no one had called him a jerk yet, and he seems almost delighted about the prospect of a public television aired debate that was held last Friday by the Atlanta Press Club and GPB public television. He also admits fundraising hasn’t been a priority and that he doesn’t plan to aggressively fundraise until after the primary.

“I’m running a very frugal campaign. I’m not a poor guy, but I’m not rich like Barrow,” Horner said.

Nor has he sought public endorsements. “I don’t put a lot of tremendous stock in that; people vote for someone they believe in and I think so far my background is pretty damn good,” Horner said, pointing to his ten years of financial experience, and comparing his 26 and a half year military record with that of his opponents, pointing out that “none of them have served a day.”

In an area populated by military bases, Horner says he believes military experience will be an important factor next Tuesday. And if things don’t work out the way he hopes, his first go at politics may also be his last. “This will be my last hoorah if I don’t win the primary,” he said.

As Horner puts it, the candidates have been burning a lot of rubber in the last few weeks before the primary. Last Friday night, they were all in Milledgeville, GA for a debate., and then headed up to Atlanta for the GPB debate and airing.

Barrow was a no-show for his Democratic debate against Thomas, claiming a prior engagement barred him from attending the debate. Regina Thomas was given the full-time to answer questions of regional media following the Republican debate.

Voters can visit the candidates’ individual websites to learn more about their campaign at the following web addresses:

Mike Horner -
Ray McKinney -
Jeanne Seaver -
Carl Smith -

John Barrows -
Regina Thomas -

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