Rep. John Barrow (D)
Georgia 12th District
In Georgia, the focus is usually on Atlanta. But the state also has some urbane smaller cities with roots deep in the past. One is Savannah, the state’s first capital, which by the 1830s was one of America’s booming cotton ports. It languished after the Civil War, and lived off paper mills and chemical plants in the 20th century, while impoverished blacks on the islands a few miles offshore still spoke Gullah dialects. Then, a few decades ago, preservationists started restoring houses and churches on a street grid punctuated by 24 squares that James Oglethorpe had laid out more than 200 years before. Today, Savannah is one of the most graciously preserved cities in the country and a major tourism destination thanks to the popularity of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a somewhat fact-based story of eccentricity and murder that was on best-seller lists for four years in the 1990s. In 2007, Savannah acquired a different sort of notoriety when the local Episcopal Church parted ways with the national diocese over the main church’s decision to affirm an openly gay bishop. The city actively competes with neighboring, and equally well-preserved, Charleston, S.C., not only for tourists but also for shipping. Another such city is Augusta, upriver on the Savannah. Founded in 1735 as a fur-trading post, it has been home to the Medical College of Georgia since 1835. The city, which has its own Cotton Exchange and Riverwalk, is also the boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 12th Congressional District of Georgia runs along the Savannah River and comprises almost all of Savannah and some of its suburbs and about 60% of Augusta. It contains the Depression-racked farm country near Augusta that Erskine Caldwell chronicled in his scandalous best-seller, Tobacco Road. The titular dirt thoroughfare, which led to a small port on the Savannah River, is now paved and runs through a nondescript mix of residential and commercial areas. In 2008, the district voted for Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain, 55%-44%.
Rep. John Barrow (D)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Oct. 31, 1955, Athens .
Education: U. of GA, B.A. 1976, Harvard U., J.D. 1979.
Family: Married (Victoria); 2 children.
Elected office: Athens-Clarke City-Co. comm., 1990-2004.
Professional Career: Practicing atty, 1981-2004.
The congressman from the 12th District is Democrat John Barrow, whose family has been rooted in Georgia for seven generations. His father handled school desegregation cases as a lawyer and as a Superior Court judge in the Athens area. A graduate of the University of Georgia and Harvard Law School, Barrow became a trial lawyer and made his name in local politics by winning four terms as an Athens-Clarke city-county commissioner. In 2004, he decided to run against Republican Rep. Max Burns, who had won the 12th District seat in an upset in 2002.
|John Barrow (D)||164,562||(66%)||($2,502,783)|
|John Stone (R)||84,773||(34%)||($365,140)|
|John Barrow (D)||45,235||(76%)|
|Regina Thomas (D)||13,955||(24%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%), 2004 (52%)
Although most Democratic voters in the district are black, all four candidates in the Democratic primary were white. Barrow raised more than $700,000 and, with the endorsements of former Sen. Max Cleland, the Sierra Club, and the Georgia AFL-CIO, extended his appeal beyond his home base. He won 51% of the vote and all 14 counties, enough to avoid a runoff. In the general election, Barrow distanced himself from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and the national party. He focused on Burns’s support of a national retail sales tax to replace the income tax. He attacked the proposal as a tax increase that was anti-family and labeled it “the Max Tax.” Burns accused Barrow of distorting his proposal and called his opponent a “liberal trial attorney” controlled by “Atlanta party bosses.” Burns ran well in rural areas, but Barrow won big margins among African-American voters in the three counties that cast two-thirds of the district’s votes—62% in Richmond, 58% in Chatham, and 58% in Clarke. Overall, Barrow won 52%-48%.
In the House, Barrow ranks among the most conservative Democrats. He took a hard line against illegal immigrants and cast votes in 2007 against proposals to limit war funding in Iraq. He sponsored a bill to give tax credits equal to 50% of an employer’s health insurance costs. Also in 2007, Democratic leaders gave him a leading role in pushing for an increase in the minimum wage, and he secured a seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. In 2008, after an explosion at a sugar refinery near Savannah, Barrow won House passage of his bill to force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to tighten rules on industrial dust.
Barrow’s political life was made more difficult by the 2005 redistricting, which moved his Clarke County base into the heavily Republican 10th District. He said he would run in the new district that included the largest part of his former district, which turned out to be the 12th. Barrow moved his residence to Savannah and emphasized his independence. “No boss, no leader, no caucus can tell me how to vote. And none of them has,” he declared. Burns ran against him and got fundraising help from national Republicans. The outcome was even closer this time, and Burns waited nine days before conceding. In his 50.3%-49.7% victory, Barrow won only eight of 22 counties, but he captured 62% of the vote in Chatham and 65% in Richmond, the two largest counties.
In 2008, Barrow faced state Sen. Regina Thomas, an African-American, in the July primary. A liberal political action committee ran ads criticizing Barrow for supporting President Bush on tax cuts and the Iraq war. He ran strongly across the district and won 76%-24%. In November, he won re-election easily, losing only two counties en route to a 66%-34% victory over Republican John Stone.