Will John Barrow be last Blue Dog standing?

Will John Barrow be last Blue Dog standing?
© Greg Nash

Rep. John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Republican wins Georgia secretary of state runoff to replace Kemp The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of MORE has heard the refrain before — this is finally the year Republicans will take him down.

But the Georgia Democrat is unfazed.


“I think they have to make a different case than they’re making now,” he said of Republicans during a phone interview Wednesday.

“They’re making the same case they’ve made five times in a row,” Barrow said. “We’re trying the same case to the same jury.”

To Barrow, the hits are familiar: he votes with President Obama 85 percent of the time, he hasn’t cut spending enough and he’s been in Washington too long.

The secret to his success, he says, and why he’s again in a good position to win reelection is, “If you’re working like the dickens for the people, they can judge for themselves.”

Barrow is far better off than fellow Blue Dog Democrats who are facing vigorous challenges, including Reps. Nick Rahall (W.Va.) and Ron Barber (Ariz.), or members like Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah), who opted for retirement instead of another tough reelection slog.

Republicans hold out hope that lightning will strike, thanks to a combination of the president’s unpopularity, frustration with Washington and depressed midterm turnout.

They note that this is the first time Barrow will face midterm voters in a more conservative district, redrawn to the GOP’s advantage, that’s taken out much of Barrow’s Savannah base.

Two years ago, Republicans fumbled their first chance at defeating Barrow in the new district, but that was a year when Obama was at the top of the ticket. State Rep. Lee Anderson, Barrow’s 2012 opponent, is still derided by many operatives as one of the worst candidates of all time.

In 2014, Republicans have turned to wealthy businessman Rick AllenRichard (Rick) Wayne AllenStefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts Capitol Police investigate report Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris tried to bring gun on House floor Georgia elections chief refutes election claims in letter to Congress MORE, who came in third in the GOP race two years ago. Allen surprised many by winning the primary this time without a runoff, and by all accounts he’s a much stronger opponent. 

Still, Barrow’s bipartisan credentials are strong. He’s one of just a handful of Democrats the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed this cycle and he frequently splits from his party on major votes, including on ObamaCare.

His ads are always among the best, showcasing his homespun, folksy approach. A 2012 spot, for example, showed him brandishing his grandfather’s “little Smith & Wesson” and rifle, declaring “ain’t nobody gonna take ’em away.”

For Republicans to win, they have to tie Barrow to Obama at every turn. Watching Allen’s ads, one would think he’s running against Obama, not Barrow; most ads don’t even mention Barrow’s name, blasting the president over healthcare and the Veterans Affairs scandal.

“Evidently my opponent is running against someone other than me for a different job,” Barrow laughed.

Allen, a wealthy construction company owner, argues Obama and Barrow are the same.

In an interview Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Allen said he learned a lot from his first loss and that this time will be different.

The challenger comes from the new part of the district, near Augusta. Raised on a farm in Columbia County, he left to attend Auburn University but returned to eventually found his own commercial construction company. He talks of his business experience, in which he struggled to build his company up and to create hundreds of jobs, as traits he would bring to Congress.

In 2012 and again this year, some Republicans privately expressed concern he would be painted as a “country club Republican” and wouldn’t appeal to the district’s more rural, Southern base, but Allen says that’s unfounded.

“I love to get my hands dirty. I’ve got a pickup truck, I like to get out in those fields, and mix it up with the farm,” Allen says with a smile, talking excitedly about cotton that will soon be ripe for picking and baling. 

Both parties are spending big on the race, but Democrats are especially going all in.

According to a source tracking ad buys, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $1.2 million so far through Election Day. The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved $925,000, but that could increase.

Democratic ads have already tried to sully Allen’s business record, hitting his company for accepting millions of dollars in government contracts that went over budget.

According to Republicans in the state, this could be the make-or-break year to take out Barrow finally.

“If [Barrow] survives this race, then he’s probably going to be there as long as he wants to, but I think this may actually be the year that something happens,” predicted Eric Tanenblatt, a longtime Georgia GOP operative.

Tanenblatt called Allen a strong candidate and said that in the current political climate, “all bets are off.”

“You really can’t look at past elections. [Barrow has] never been in a situation with a president of his party in his second term who has such a dismal approval rating,” he added.

“It’s hard to beat John Barrow. He is a very aggressive campaigner. He blocks and tackles very well,” Georgia GOP consultant Chip Lake admitted. “At the end of the day, all we need to do is defeat him once.” 

“I think this will be Barrow’s biggest test and his biggest challenge because of math,” he added.

If Barrow goes down, though, it might end up being more about the political climate than his opponent or even himself, and likely means Democratic losses are widespread.

Still, Republicans have learned time and again, to their frustration, never count John Barrow out.

“Barrow is a savvy politician, and I think he still has the advantage in the race,” one Georgia Republican strategist said.

“Eventually, he will go down,” the strategist said of Barrow. “He can’t fight that tide forever. There’s a plausible case for how Rick Allen wins this race, but it’s heavily reliant on things outside his control.”