LISTEN: Democrats and Republicans are watching Southwest Georgia, where a congressional race could help decide who controls the U.S. House. GPB's Stephen Fowler reports.

Politics is polarizing these days, but Rep. Sanford Bishop has been a somewhat rare exception. The Democrat usually wins reelection by large margins with voters from both parties supporting his campaign.

His secret?

"In most instances, the issues that impact my district are really not partisan issues," he said. "Agriculture is a bipartisan concern. It is the largest economic engine for the state of Georgia. And, of course, everybody has to eat."

The 2nd Congressional District population is half rural and half urban. It’s home to key industries like financial services and agriculture, and its voters aren’t overwhelmingly stacked in favor of one party or the other.

"I have to really think about it in a way and carefully consider both sides of an issue and try to determine what is in the best interest of the majority of the people and what's good government," Bishop added. "So I basically try to put the people above politics."

While Georgia's governor and Senate race have been dominating headlines and bringing in millions of dollars in fundraising, both Democrats and Republicans are paying attention to this Southwest Georgia race, the only one out 14 U.S. House districts that is remotely competitive.

At a campaign stop in Thomasville last week, Bishop told a crowd of nearly 50 people that Democrats have delivered for the district, on things like the infrastructure bill and lowering health care costs, saying the glass is half full rather than half empty.

"We are two years into this administration," he said. "And with the legislation that has passed already, it is more than has passed in four years in previous administrations."

But while the 2nd District is home to these key industries and has seen the effects of federal spending that Bishop has touted, it’s still one of the 10 poorest congressional districts in the nation. That, plus global inflation that has especially squeezed the state’s farmers, gives Republican Chris West an opening.

West has the resume of a solid Republican candidate: military service in the air national guard, business owner, family man and church member. The Thomasville native has family ties to agriculture through multiple generations. Today he’s an attorney for a commercial developer. 

Where Sanford Bishop’s success has come in crossover support from white conservative-leaning farmers, Chris West’s pathway to Congress comes from bringing those voters back to the fold, like Daryl Baxley, an agriculture teacher at Crawford County High School.

West offered his take on the race after he toured Hurst Boiler, the country’s largest industrial boiler manufacturer situated in Coolidge just up the road from Bishop’s event.

"I'm not saying that Sanford's a bad guy or anything, but it's time to have somebody who supports agriculture not only with their mouth, but with their vote," he said.

West and his supporters see a link between Democratic policies and rising inflation, which has affected the cost of things like fertilizer and diesel fuel.

Bishop has more money, more name recognition and three decades of incumbency on his side. But West’s campaign shows there could be an appetite for change in the 2nd District.