The Smyrna resident has spent the past decade in the political wilderness, a journey that included seeing the congressional district he represented for four terms get gerrymandered out from under him in one of the last gasps of the Speaker Tom Murphy era of the Georgia Legislature. It saw him move to Canton in Cherokee County in an unsuccessful attempt to hang on to that district. It included a fruitless run for president as the nominee of the Libertarian Party in 2008. And it saw the fading of his political profile.
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s Barr was a nightly — and seemingly sometimes hourly — guest on TV news and talk radio, usually arguing for gun rights, against gay marriage or for the need to impeach Bill Clinton. Recent years saw Barr’s star fade somewhat on the national scene, although to those closer to home he still has the aura of a “Congressman-in-Waiting.”
BUT BARR is now perfectly poised to regain that lost stature, having been the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring to succeed U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), who announced on Wednesday that he would run next year to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Barr waited just minutes after Gingrey’s official announcement to send out a press release trumpeting a press conference of his own for the next day.
Why the rush? Barr obviously was trying to scare off any other Republicans thinking of running for Gingrey’s 11th District seat.
SO WHO ELSE might run for Gingrey’s seat? State House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey (R-Buckhead) said late this week that he will decide whether to do so within two weeks. A problem for Lindsey is the fact that only 10 percent of 11th District voters are on his side of the ’Hooch. But on the other hand, his Buckhead precincts are the wealthiest in the 11th, which can’t hurt when it comes to fundraising.
Freshman state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Bartow/Cherokee) is interested in running, as is state Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb). Hill actually lives in the 6th District, but one is not required to live in a district to run for the seat. But Hill is believed to be waiting to see if the 6th seat opens up, should U.S. Rep. Tom Price decide to run for U.S. Senate.
And don’t count out Cobb’s Tricia Pridemore, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development. Pridemore, who ran a heated race two years ago that nearly unseated east Cobb’s Sue Everhart as Georgia GOP chairman, and who is said to be “looking seriously” at running for Gingrey’s seat.
CONGRESSMAN OR NOT, it’s obvious that Barr still has drawing power. An estimated 300 people attended his press conference at sporting goods store Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna — a huge crowd for a press conference, especially at midmorning on a workday.
That’s not the only advantage he brings to the race.
First of all, he has name identification. Nearly everybody knows who he is, even though thanks to redistricting the current 11th bears little resemblance to the shape of the 11th he formerly represented.
Yes, he has been a polarizing figure at times, but that won’t hurt him in a Republican Primary in a district that voted 47 percent for Newt Gingrich and 17 percent for Rick Santorum in last year’s presidential preference primary, to just 28 percent for Mitt Romney.
With that name recognition comes proven fund-raising ability. He can draw donations nation-wide and probably far more of them than any other likely candidate.
And as luck would have it for Barr, the race begins at a time when two of the hottest issues of the moment are ones — gun rights and same-sex marriage — on which he has a national reputation. He’s a longtime member of the board of the National Rifle Association and in 1996 authored the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by Clinton and which was the subject of oral arguments this week before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Incidentally, Barr now says the DOMA has “outlived its usefulness.” And with many younger Republicans and libertarian-leaning Republicans having no problem with same-sex marriage, opposition to gay marriage is not the sure-fire vote-getter it used to be.
IN ADDITION, the Barr camp tells Around Town he has talked to House Speaker John Boehner in Washington and has been assured that if he wins election he would start out not as a freshman again, but with the eight years of congressional seniority he has already earned. And it gets more interesting.
State Rep. Jack Kingston (Class of 1992) and Rep. Price (Class of ‘04) are also thinking of running for Senate, and Gingrey (2002) and Rep. Paul Broun (2006) have already announced. If all four were to resign next year in order to run, and were Barr to win, he would then start out as the second-most senior Republican in the Georgia delegation behind Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (2004).
THIS WEEK’S front-page breakup of the oft-times awkward marriage of the Lyric Theatre and Friends of the Strand has prompted Downtown Marietta Development Authority Chairman Tom Browning to propose the city build or buy a professional-quality performing arts center.
Browning penned a letter to the editor of the MDJ (running on Sunday’s “More Opinions” page) in which he declares that, “The time has arrived for downtown Marietta to have a public performing arts venue.”
“To attract and keep top quality professional performing arts companies, we have got to have a first-class, affordable performing arts venue,” he writes.
Browning cites the examples of Lawrenceville and Buford, which have such facilities, then concludes, “What is it that keeps people in the community and draws people to the community? Top quality public education and a vibrant arts community. It is time downtown Marietta has a public performing arts center. I urge the City to continue to be a leader in the arts.”
THE LYRIC AND STRAND have shared the Strand’s stage since its reopening in 2008. Negotiations to renew the Lyric’s contract ended when the Friends board voted unanimously to let the contract expire. That development came as somewhat of a shock, especially considering that Mayor Steve Tumlin had thrown the power of his office into a joint effort with the DMDA to use city funds to subsidize the operation. The city and Downtown Marietta Development Authority would have co-sponsored five Lyric musicals during the upcoming year, had the proposal been adopted.
MONDAY’S “First Monday Breakfast” of the Cobb Chamber will feature a panel discussion on “Encouraging Entrepreneurship” featuring Velociteach CEO/founder Andy Crowe, KSU Provost Dr. Ken Harmon, Sundial Plumbing President Mitzi Moore, Seed Kitchen & Bar owner Doug Turbush and eVerifile Inc. President/CEO Mark Wilson. The event takes place at 7:30 a.m. at the Cobb Galleria Centre. ... Around Town’s Joe Kirby speaks at Monday’s meeting of the Marietta Metro Rotary Club about his trip last year to WWII battlefields.
MORE POLITICS: The Legislature on its final night approved 3 percent raises for some Cobb judges and other courthouse workers. Such raises are usually non-controversial, but this year was different, thanks to both the economy and to at least one lawmaker thinking of seeking higher office.
The main Senate opposition came from Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), who is said to be weighing a run for Tom Price’s 6th District seat if Price runs for Senate.
Hill kept his opposition to the raises muted until the session’s final night. Politicos suspect he waited until he saw there was sufficient support for the proposal for it to pass, and then decided it would be politically advantageous to come out against it.
“If he really was against it, why’d he wait till the last night of the session to say so?” asked one.
EVENTS: The Cobb Republican Party and Cobb Young Republicans will hold their annual Easter Egg Hunt at 11 a.m. this morning at Tumlin Park in Hickory Hills. ...
The Cobb Young Democrats will hold their spring social from 4 to 7 p.m. this evening at Dave & Buster’s.