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New congressional races should be entertaining

Posted: October 11, 2011 - 7:39pm

At first glance, you might think 2012 will be a ho-hum election year for Georgia voters.

We won't be choosing a governor, and neither of the incumbent U.S. senators will be on the ballot, so there aren't any compelling statewide races to get excited about.

If you're looking for the entertainment a good political campaign supplies, I see two congressional races with a lot of potential: the Republican primary in the 9th Congressional District and the general election for the 12th District.

In Northeast Georgia's 9th District, which will be an open seat, a rollicking race is already developing between state Rep. Doug Collins and talk radio host Martha Zoller.

Collins is the candidate of the Republican Party establishment. One of his recent fundraisers involved such legislative heavyweights as Speaker David Ralston, House Majority Leader Larry O'Neal, Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, and Rep. Matt Ramsey, the author of Georgia's immigration control law.

Gov. Nathan Deal helped clear the field for Collins by appointing another potential candidate, Jim Butterworth, as the state's adjutant general. Collins' fundraisers have been put together by Robyn Lynch, a business partner of the governor's daughter-in-law.

Zoller has never held elective office but is a polished media personality who will play to the tea party segment of the GOP base. She has the potential to be Georgia's version of Michele Bachmann or Christine O'Donnell, the colorful witchcraft dabbler who won the GOP nomination in Delaware's U.S. Senate race last year.

I'll predict right now that one of Zoller's campaign messages will be that she is not "part of the good ol' boy network that's been running the state for all these years." That's the approach used by Linda Schrenko in 2002 and Karen Handel in 2010 when they ran for governor. The strategy did not work for either Schrenko or Handel - perhaps it will be a winner for Zoller, who I'm sure is going to stay in constant attack mode against Collins.

Over in eastern Georgia's 12th District, the Republicans have once again radically redrawn the district boundaries in their ongoing efforts to get rid of Democratic Rep. John Barrow, formerly of Athens and Savannah and soon to be moving to another city within the district, although he hasn't identified it just yet.

Republicans similarly tried to draw out Barrow in 2006, but Barrow messed up those plans and returned to the U.S. House by defeating Republican Max Burns. In the redesigned 12th District that's a bit more Republican, Barrow could face Burns again, although Burns may stay out of the race because he is also one of the candidates to become president of Gordon College.

The Republicans who want to take on Barrow in the general election include state Rep. Lee Anderson and Rick Allen, the owner of an Augusta construction business. State Rep. Ben Harbin is another Columbia County figure who could end up running in the GOP primary.

Even with the odds stacked against him, Barrow is a potent fundraiser and an experienced campaigner. Although he's technically a Democrat, Barrow has co-sponsored bills to require a balanced federal budget, voted against the healthcare reform act, and keeps trying to gut the healthcare law by removing the insurance coverage mandate for employers.

As with Zell Miller, the question is often asked of Barrow: why don't you just go ahead and make the party switch official since you already vote with the Republicans on all of the issues that matter?

"I think we need two parties that are as good as they can be, not just ins and outs," Barrow said. "We need two parties to serve as a check on each other."

Barrow is described by some of my journalistic colleagues as "the last white Democratic male congressman" from the South, which sounds very dramatic but is actually not true. There are white Democrats in the House from such states of the Old Confederacy as Tennessee, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.

It is accurate to describe Barrow as the last white Democrat left in Georgia's congressional delegation and it will be fascinating to see if he hangs for another term in the U.S. House, or if the Republican Party finally hits that bullseye on his back.

(Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com.)

 

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