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Sunday, July 25, 2010 - 4:18pm

Candidate McKinney No Show At Debate

Only one candidate showed up for the 12th district Republican run-off debate, which aired statewide on GPB-TV Sunday evening.

Ray McKinney declined an invitation by the Atlanta Press Club to appear with challenger Carl Smith.

McKinney's absence was noted by an empty podium. In one round of the debate candidates got to question their opponents. Smith used the opportunity to call out McKinney saying he is not in touch with regular people.

Smith is the Fire Chief in Thunderbolt, near Savannah. He says he's a public servant and voters are "looking for someone who served."

The 12th district in Southeast Georgia touches 22 counties. During the primary election last week McKinney received 43% of the vote and Smith 28%.

The runoff will be August 10th. The winner of the runoff will face Incumbent Democratic Congressman John Barrow in November.

Tea Party support has been critical in this race. But that might not translate into general election win against Barrow.

McKinney and Smith both have courted Tea Party members. But the district, drawn by Democratic lawmakers, remains tough terrain for Republicans of any stripe Barrow's last G.O.P. opponent lost to the incumbent two-to-one.

Savannah College of Art and Design Liberal Arts Dean and political commentator Robert Eisinger says, the Tea Party also isn't yet a wholly formed political force.

"The Tea Party movement is in such a nacent stage that it's too early to tell whether or not that movement will translate not only into votes in the Republican primary, but ultimately against an incumbent like John Barrow," Eisinger says. "Some of those people were not going to vote for an incumbent Democrat no matter what."

The 12th District is 40% African-American, a largely Democratic voting block.

Still, the seat was first held by a Republican, Barrow has had close calls and national polls portend poorly for the House majority.

Both Smith and McKinney have sought to tie Barrow to House Speaker Nancy Polosi, though Barrow distances himself from Democratic leadership.

The Atlanta Press Club and GPB also held runoff debates Sunday for Republicans in the 7th, 13th and 9th congressional districts.