“How about them Falcons?” Anderson asked one customer at Evans Diner. “I could eat cornbread, butterbeans and tomatoes every day of the week,” he told another at Goolsby’s restaurant down the road.
But with the clock ticking toward his Election Day showdown with four-term Democratic Rep. John Barrow, Anderson also made sure the customers at each of the three eateries he visited in an hour got the real reason for his visit: “I’m running for Congress and I need your help tomorrow.”
All 13 U.S. House members from Georgia, along with candidates for one open seat, will be on the ballot Tuesday. But the only race considered to have a real chance of producing an upset has been Barrow vs. Anderson.
The last white Democratic congressman from the Deep South, Barrow has faced a tough re-election fight after GOP lawmakers redrew his 12th District seat last year to carve out his Savannah home and political base. The new district gives Republicans an edge by packing in more rural voters who tend to lean conservative.
Barrow moved to Augusta and worked to win crossover support from GOP voters. He cast himself as an independent who has opposed President Barack Obama and other Washington Democrats on issues such as health care. He’s appeared in TV ads waving firearms to tout his endorsement by the National Rifle Association. And Barrow has ripped into Anderson for refusing to debate.
“There are huge numbers of people who describe themselves as independent in this district,” Barrow said between campaign stops waving signs at intersections in the rural communities of Douglas, Hazlehurst and Baxley before heading to the state’s sweet onion capital of Vidalia. “The only reason for any concern is there is also a large number of folks who habitually vote Republican.”
While some Republican voters in the district have said they support Barrow, Anderson insists most see the congressman as two-faced rather than independent. Anderson and the Republican Party have sought to persuade voters that Barrow is a bigger ally of Obama than he’ll admit. In a fundraising email last week, Anderson’s campaign described Barrow and Obama as sharing a “bromance.”
“People are fed up with John Barrow being the biggest flip-flopper,” said Anderson, a state lawmaker and hay farmer from Grovetown. “They’re ready for someone to go to Washington who’s struggling just like they are.”
Barrow, meanwhile, has been airing TV ads that poke fun at Anderson for being a no-show at debates. The ads show the congressman onstage next to an empty podium while audience members roll their eyes and yawn. Anderson’s only advantage, Barrow said, is that he’s a Republican.
“For someone who won’t come out and debate and defend his position, it’s pretty obvious all he’s got is a letter next to his name,” Barrow said. “Experience has taught us you can have a good brand and a lousy representative of that brand.”
Barrow has maintained a fundraising edge throughout the campaign, hauling in $2.65 million to defend his seat as of Oct. 17. Anderson has reported raising a little more than $1 million.
Outside groups favoring both candidates have also had a big influence, pouring more than $5.7 million into the race according to the Federal Election Commission.