Barring some miracle hidden in a recount of Tuesday’s primary runoff or in overseas military absentee ballots still counted through Friday, Lee Anderson is the Republican nominee for the 12th District congressional seat. He’ll now plow ahead to the November election against Democratic incumbent John Barrow.
Every pundit acknowledges that despite competing in a district he helped draw for himself during reapportionment, Anderson will be in for a tough fight against a sharp, well-financed opponent. Yet Anderson has beaten the odds before, and beaten detractors who said his tractor-laden imagery would turn away suburban voters.
Still, it has to sting that Anderson didn’t win his own county in the runoff against Rick Allen. Nor did he win Richmond County, which will vote heavily Democratic this fall. His razor-thin margin of victory Tuesday came from the rural counties of the 12th District, where Anderson’s plain-spoken “simple man” campaign played well.
But like many candidates for higher office, Anderson is showing signs of being over-managed by professional staff who seem to have calculated that keeping him on script and out of public view is in his best interest.
That is a fatal error, and certainly one that is not in the best interest of the district’s voters.
During the intense three weeks between the July 31 primary and Tuesday’s runoff, Anderson declined all offers to debate Allen. While neither man had particularly stellar showings in previous debates, Anderson’s performances at times were cringe-inducing. It’s perhaps no surprise that he, or his staff, would choose to spend those three weeks in more favorable settings.
But an incident Tuesday night is worrisome. Once it seemed Anderson had won, his handlers hustled him off to a back room of the hall where his victory party was held. News reporters, including The News-Times News Editor Steven Uhles, asked repeatedly for comments from Anderson – an entirely routine request – and finally were told he didn’t have time to talk to them, or, by extension, their audiences.
Herded by his posse, Anderson eventually emerged, gave a short speech and was whisked away through a back door.
Clearly Anderson, or his campaign staff, have decided that the risk of their candidate speaking off the cuff is worse than the perception that he is avoiding the public. After all, one pundit zinged Anderson as having “never met two syllables without tripping over them.”
When you consider the fact that Barrow has never met a camera or microphone he wouldn’t jump in front of, that sets up the dangerous prospect of making this race a contrast not between ideologies, but between openness and secrecy. That is not the Lee Anderson we know, and it is a race he cannot win.
His staffers had better get the memo.