One well-known Democrat after another passed on the chance to challenge Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson in November. But in Jim Barksdale, a well-heeled businessman who qualified Thursday to run for the seat, state party officials believe they’ve finally found their man.
Barksdale, who built a decades-long career in investments and portfolio management, is a political newcomer who is little known outside of Democratic circles. But, as we reported on Tuesday, he also brings an outsider’s take to political office – and the ability to pour millions of dollars from his own fortune into the campaign.
In a statement on Thursday, Barksdale cast himself as an independent-minded business executive who will focus his race on holding the federal government accountable.
“It’s time for accountability in Washington because the hard truth is, they’ve lost our trust,” Barksdale said in a statement. “Building my company, we always kept at the top of our minds that we were protecting people’s retirement, their children’s education and their opportunities to act on their dreams. We need this same stewardship in the U.S. Senate on national security and economic opportunity for all."
With Barksdale, Georgia Democrats are trying their variation of the plan that propelled David Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive, to office in 2014 and helped billionaire Donald Trump to a resounding victory in the Peach State's presidential primary last week.
It’s a calculated risk, though: While Republicans have been enamored of late by anti-establishment contenders, exit polls show an overwhelming majority of Georgia Democrats support candidates with political experience.
The two-term incumbent also has faced questions about his health since he revealed in June that he has suffered from Parkinson’s for about two years. He has maintained that the disease was in its earliest stages and said it would not jeopardize his ability to serve another six-year term.
Still, Barksdale made clear in his statement that he will focus his campaign not on Isakson but on Washington. His supporters hope that the increasing likelihood that Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could win the GOP presidential nomination could put red states like Georgia in play.
“The people who’ve been hurt most by an irresponsible Congress no longer feel the American dream is within reach – but it is,” Barksdale said. “It’s time for a government and Congress that listens to its people and puts our long-term interests first by making responsible decisions.”
Barksdale will spend the next months introducing himself to Georgia voters. Long a benefactor to Democratic causes, he is a blank slate to most voters. The candidate, who was born in Macon and raised in Atlanta, founded Equity Investment Corporation and serves on the board of the Atlanta-based Carter Center.
Barksdale will face a relatively smooth path to his party’s nomination. At least three other Democrats have qualified to run, but all are newcomers and none have the party’s support. Other potential candidates who have rumbled recently about a run, including former state Sen. Regina Thomas, have since abandoned a bid.
Republicans welcomed him to the race with a glimpse of the attacks lightly to come.
"After fifteen months and multiple failed attempts to prop up a warm body for the United States Senate, the Georgia Democrats finally have a candidate on the day before qualifying ends," said party chair John Padgett. "Clearly, Georgia Republicans have the enthusiasm advantage heading into the fall while Georgia Democrats are struggling to remain relevant in the Peach State."