There was no big crowd at this recent meet-and-greet in Augusta less than three weeks before Election Day. But for Barrow, the last white Democratic congressman from the Deep South, these voters represent a key constituency that he needs to win re-election: Republicans.
“I genuinely believe we have to try to work with folks who don’t share the same starting point,” Barrow tells the guests, urging them to set partisan differences aside. “We have to talk to the other side. I was raised to believe that was the right thing to do. It’s also the only way to get anything done in Congress.”
Barrow’s 12th District in eastern Georgia has been a swing seat since he first won election in 2004. But the stakes are different this year as he seeks a fifth term. Republican lawmakers redrew the lines of Barrow’s district last year to cut out Savannah, his home and a huge part of his Democratic base.
Now, the congressman is running in a district designed to give the edge to his opponent, Lee Anderson, a Republican state lawmaker and farmer from Grovetown. The bottom line is Barrow can’t win without attracting crossover votes from those supporting Mitt Romney for president and other GOP candidates down the ballot.
The hostess of the Augusta home gathering Thursday, real-estate agent Gwen Fulcher Young, is one such supporter. She’s the wife of former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, a Republican who served in Bush’s cabinet. On the back windshield of her Jeep Commander, she’s plastered a Barrow bumper sticker just above one for Romney.
Fulcher Young said she found Barrow’s opponent lacking in gravitas, with a muddy drawl that sometimes defies basic grammar. Anderson, a hay farmer whose campaign logo features a tractor, has played up his country roots in appealing to the district’s largely rural base. It hasn’t helped that Anderson, after stumbling in some GOP primary debates, has refused to share a stage with Barrow, a Harvard-educated lawyer.
“Sending Lee Anderson to Washington would be like sending Honey Boo Boo up there,” Fulcher Young said, referring to the 7-year-old reality TV star known for her Southern sass. “It just seems to me that he represents the ignorance that people used to think of when they think of Southerners.”
Republican leaders in Georgia insist Anderson is their best chance ever to oust Barrow.
State GOP chairman Sue Everhart said that rural voters in cities such as Statesboro and Vidalia are eager to send a fellow farmer to Washington and that party defectors such as Fulcher Young are “few and far between.” About 12 people showed up at her event for Barrow, out of about 50 who were invited.
“Lee Anderson is anything but backward. I can tell you that,” Everhart said. “He speaks like a good old boy. He is a good old boy. But he cares about this state.”
Fulcher Young’s husband isn’t supporting Barrow — though he said he’s bothered by Anderson’s refusal to debate.