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Politics

Barrow Caters to District's Split Personality

October 16, 2012

Southern Democrats often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Most of the districts they represent have large, liberal African-American populations that provide a great base of support, but the voters needed to boost Democrats to victory tend to be white and fairly conservative. Appealing to both groups at once is difficult in these "split personality" districts, but Rep. John Barrow's, D-Ga., latest TV ad demonstrates that it is possible.

About a third of Barrow's constituency, Georgia's 12th District population, is black, giving Barrow a solid electoral foundation. But the district also gave Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. over 55 percent of its 2008 presidential vote. Barrow needs conservative whites to win, and he's been emphasizing his independence from the Democratic Party toward that end. The trick is in keeping both the base and the swing voters happy at the same time; earlier this cycle, North Carolina Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell ran into trouble with black voters as he tried to shore up centrist appeal.

Barrow's latest TV ad subtly appeals to both groups at once. The ad touts the National Rifle Association's recent endorsement of Barrow and his family's history of gun ownership. But the particular way that Barrow introduces the issue broadens the spot's appeal. At the very beginning of the ad, Barrow holds a small pistol in front of the camera and says, "Long before I was born, my grandfather used this little Smith & Wesson here to help stop a lynching." The commercial's larger goal is to show rural gun owners that Barrow stands with them, but with this simple line, Barrow communicated the same message to the district's African-American population, too.

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