Political Insider

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After years of trying, Republicans finally nail John Barrow


It’s as if Elmer Fudd finally shot Bugs Bunny, and nailed his pelt to the barn door.

After gunning for him for a decade, forcing him to move from Athens to Savannah to Augusta, packing his district with more and more GOP-leaning voters, Republicans have finally defeated the wascally wabbit that is U.S. Rep. John Barrow.

Barrow politely succumbed to Republican businessman Rick Allen on Tuesday, losing his 12th District seat in a 55 to 45 percent rout that paralleled the statewide defeats of Michelle Nunn, the U.S. Senate candidate, and Jason Carter, the gubernatorial hopeful.

“For 10 years, the people of Georgia’s 12th District have given me the honor of my life to serve them,” Barrow said in a concession statement that night. “Every day, I tried to do what I thought they would want me to do. Today, they’ve chosen new representation, and I respect that.”

Thus endeth one of the more storied winning streaks in Georgia political history. Even those who couldn’t get past his Democratic identity had to offer a tip of the hat to Barrow’s status as a combination escape artist and museum piece – the last white Democrat in the U.S. House from a Deep South state.

While occasionally aided by Republican, Fudd-like fumbling, Barrow had survived on fierce attention to constituent services and non-stop fundraising, all while walking a delicate tightrope between black and white voters in his rural district.

One of his TV ads this season was a near-repeat from 2012, featuring a Smith & Wesson pistol used by his granddaddy to stop a lynching – a deft message to both black voters and fans of the National Rifle Association.

Last month, Barrow was one of the few Democrats to criticize the state party’s decision to aim a turnout mailer at African-American voters that used images from Ferguson, Mo., after a young black man was shot by a police officer. (Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Barrow supporter, was another.)

But unlike Bugs, or his cultural predecessor, B’rer Rabbit, Barrow never threw a wink, never broke the fourth wall. Tight-rope walking was serious stuff. “Not many people can make the argument with a straight face that both sides have screwed up, and we need somebody who can call both out,” the congressman said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

When asked why Tuesday was different, Barrow pictured himself as someone who promised to throw water on the blaze that is Washington.

“There are times when folks who see what’s going on feel like you’ve got to fight fire with fire. A great many people felt that way. I certainly respect their choice,” he said. “You end up destroying everything between the firebreak and the advancing fire, but sometimes that’s what it takes.”

Barrow would cite only one commonality between his fate and that of fellow Democrats Nunn and Carter: This wasn’t a season for nuanced arguments. “The headwinds from Washington were so strong, it was hard to make a case that could rise above all that,” he said.

The problem for Democrats in the South, Barrow said, is his party’s squandering of its 2008 victory. In that, he doesn’t sound much different than many Republicans after the George W. Bush years.

“You’ve got to keep the promises you make. And you promised to run on bringing people together, and fixing the economy. You can’t go running off and do a whole bunch of other things without expecting to lose a lot of people’s support and faith in you,” Barrow said. “We’re still living with the consequences of that.”

Was he talking about President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act? He didn’t want to single out Obama, the congressman said – still walking that tightrope.

But he added this: “I do think that opportunity to lead in Washington is not something to be won, or wrested from the other side. It’s got to be lost. It’s got to be given up.”

I asked Barrow what he would do next. It’s clear that he’s not done, but he was his ever-cagey self. “I’m getting the oil changed on my Jeep. The light came on over the weekend, and it’s long overdue,” Barrow said.

There are also friends to be thanked, for supporting 10 years of nonstop campaigning. Then there’s the Washington perp walk for defeated members of Congress.

The unelected and their staff are shuffled into mobile homes to make room for the victors. ”Tent City, we call it,” Barrow said.

Not even Bugs Bunny can escape that.


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.