Political Insider

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Senate candidate Jim Barksdale looks to solidify African-American support ahead of election

SAVANNAH –Jim Barksdale got off to an early start today to complete what’s become a virtual rite of passage for Democrats in Georgia during the final stretch of their campaigns: visiting African-American-owned barbershops and beauty salons.

The U.S. Senate candidate, who’s challenging Johnny Isakson for the seat he’s held for 12 years, made several pit stops across town on a particularly gorgeous November morning to build more name recognition ahead of the election.

The Atlanta investment manager and political newbie quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and a Slovenian proverb – “pray for a good harvest, but keep on hoeing” – at a beauty salon just southwest of Forsyth Park.

He placed his trademark touring cap on a child’s head a few miles down Abercorn Street at Holmes Barber Shop as he handed out glossy flyers.

Like Isakson, Barksdale was in the middle of a final blitz of campaigning in the days before the election.

He spoke to roughly 20 Democratic Party volunteers here earlier in the day and had plans for pit stops in Monroe and Milledgeville later on Saturday. On Sunday, Barksdale is slated to visit several African-American churches in metro Atlanta.

Encouraged by new polls showing support for Isakson hovering at or below the critical 50 percent support mark – the Republican needs to win more than half the vote to avoid a Jan. 10 runoff – Barksdale said he sees a political opening to win on Election day, particularly if turnout for Hillary Clinton is high.

“The main thing is all the polls keep showing us closing the gap,” he said.

Barksdale very much needs African-American voters on his side if he wants to best Isakson. Black voters constitute the backbone of Georgia's Democratic Party, and without them his path to victory becomes virtually non-existent. In the AJC's latest poll, 63 percent of likely black voters surveyed said they supported Barksdale. Eighteen percent said they would back Isakson.

Barksdale on Saturday expressed optimism that he would also have a good shot at winning a runoff, despite the fact that Republicans have won the last two overtime Senate battles in Georgia.

“I think it’ll be different this time because everybody knows what happened last time,” he said. The flood of outside, partisan money a runoff would likely prompt would work to his advantage, Barksdale said.

Back at the barber shop, Jowand Brown, an employee who also attends a technical college, said he didn’t know much about Barksdale before his visit. Regardless, he said he was impressed when he heard that the Democrat had taken out a loan during the recession so that he wouldn’t need to lay off anyone at his investment company.

Linda, a Savannah bus driver who declined to give her last name, said she had heard about Barksdale on a gospel radio station. She knew little about him but said she plans to vote for him regardless.

“It’s good enough for me that he’s a Democrat,” she said.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.