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Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 12:06pm

Barrow Faces Tough GOP Challenge

John Barrow is in the fight of his political life.

The four-term Georgia Democrat is one of a shrinking number of moderates in the House.

But his conservative Republican challenger sees strength in new district boundaries and anti-Obama sentiment.

Both candidates are running hard.

John Barrow is greeting veterans at an American Legion post in Statesboro.

His hand extended, his smile beaming, he's there to tell these engaged voters about a new VA clinic coming to the area.

"It's good to see you, Congressman," says one of the veterans.

"It's good to see you, too," says Barrow.

Officially, this isn't a campaign stop.

But showing off federal projects is part of the power of being the incumbent Congressman.

Romey Barber of Statesboro says he likes Barrow's record in the mostly rural 12th Congressional District, which includes Augusta and Swainsboro.

"I think that the things that he represents, the things that he stands for, are important to the people," says Barber.

Tom Barnard of Millen says he's voting for Republican Mitt Romney for President but Democrat John Barrow for Congress.

"He's a good old Southern Democrat," says Barnard. Back in the old days, that's all we had."


In fact, he's the last white Democrat in Congress from the Deep South and one of the increasingly rare Blue Dogs who cross party lines to anger those on both sides of the isle.

Barrow says that's his brand.

"It's a brand of independence from both party labels, both party lines. I vote for what's in the best interest of the folks I serve," says Barrow. "Voters who do their homework recognize that. That's why I'm getting the votes of a lot of people who vote for other sides of the ticket."

Barrow will need Republican votes to get a fifth term.

But the GOP has its own candidate and is hammering the Democrat in a barrage of TV ads.

So far, the campaigning on both sides has topped $5 million.

And the race could be close.

With every vote on the line, Barrow's GOP challenger, State Representative Lee Anderson, is going door to door.

He visits an assisted living center in Douglas.

Anderson walks down the hall, knocking on doors and introducing himself to elderly voters.

"How are y'all doing," Anderson booms. "I'm Lee Anderson."

"Well, okay. How are you?," reply a pair of ladies, playing a card game.

But many here already have cast their ballots.

A few are Democrats.

And many are skeptical of both parties, like resident Merle Bates.

"Well, you really don't know who to believe," says Bates. "I got so I just turn it off."

Bates says she might vote for Anderson because at least he visited her.

But others, like Helen Warden of Douglas, are true believers.

Warden was at the center to take her mom to vote for Anderson.

"The way we're voting is we're lining up with what God's word has to say," says Warden. "So that's our basis behind how we vote."

The 12th District has more reliably GOP voters in it since the state legislature's Republican majority redrew it last year.

The party is counting on the district's new GOP tilt to carry Anderson -- a Grovetown hay farmer whose campaign logo is a tractor -- to victory.

"I'm not no polished speaker, don't want to be," says Anderson. "I don't think the people want a slick talking lawyer now."

Barrow is an attorney whom Anderson has refused to debate.

The Republican lawmaker says he's not afraid of the Harvard-educated Democrat.

He just wants Barrow to state his choice for President.

"He's very liberal. He's voted 85% or more times with Obama," says Anderson. "He's even had that in his own fundraising letter."

A Barrow spokesman says the Democrat will vote for Barack Obama.

Whether Republican voters can put that aside and vote for an old line Southern Democrat who touts his dad's rifle in TV ads remains to be seen.

Political analyst and Savannah College of Art and Design School of Liberal Arts Dean Robert Eisinger says there's more of an incentive for Republicans to vote for Anderson.

"So the question isn't whether he will get any, he'll get some," Eisinger says. "The question is whether he'll get enough to retain re-election.

If Barrow loses, it'll complete a transformation on the federal level that Republicans nearly finished on a statewide level -- namely wiping out rural white Democrats.

Now here's a trip down memory lane -- a handful of the Democrats Georgia elected to Congress when the party was dominant.