AUGUSTA — Democratic Rep. John Barrow held off a Republican challenger Tuesday to win a tough re-election battle in an east Georgia district that had been retooled to ensure his defeat.
Barrow, the Deep South's last white Democratic congressman, won a fifth term by defeating GOP challenger Lee Anderson in the 12th District. Unofficial returns late Tuesday showed Barrow had 54 percent of the vote.
Republican state lawmakers tried to engineer Barrow's defeat last year by redrawing the district to carve out his political base in Savannah. Barrow sought support from independents and Republican crossover voters to overtake Anderson, a state lawmaker and farmer from Grovetown.
"It's not a victory for me so much as it's a victory for the politics of bipartisanship," Barrow said. "That's what I've been preaching for years. And now it looks like I've been preaching to the choir."
Anderson said he regretted focusing on fundraising more than getting out and meeting face-to-face with voters.
"We just didn't get our message out clear enough," Anderson said.
Meanwhile, Republicans picked up one House seat in Georgia. State Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville easily won the new 9th District by defeating Democrat Jody Cooley, an attorney. Georgia gained the additional seat from population growth recorded by the 2010 Census, and state lawmakers packed it with Republicans.
The election was the first using Georgia's new 14-seat congressional map drawn last year. By electing Collins, Republicans now hold nine seats in the state's congressional delegation.
"It adds to our work in Washington in getting our fiscal house in order and creating jobs," said Collins.
Barrow's victory ensured Georgia Democrats held onto their five House seats.
Barrow, who moved to Augusta to stay in his district, raised more than $2.6 million for his re-election bid. He campaigned as a pro-gun, pro-business Democrat with a record of snubbing his party leaders and President Barack Obama on issues such as health care.
"From the decisions he's made in the past, I think he speaks his mind and votes the way he thinks is right," said Ron Adams, 56, an information support specialist from Augusta who voted to re-elect Barrow. "He doesn't always favor one party over the other."
Anderson worked to persuade voters that Barrow was more two-faced than independent, citing mixed messages in the congressman's own ads and fundraising letters. But Anderson, after stumbling in earlier GOP primary forums, refused to debate Barrow. And Barrow mocked Anderson for being a no-show in TV ads during the race's final week.
"John Barrow, he's not too far to the left and he's not too extreme, but we have to turn this country around," said Susanne Fitzpatrick, 58, of Augusta, who said she was bothered by Anderson's reluctance to debate — but not enough to vote for Barrow. "I had to grit my teeth and vote for Lee Anderson because we've got to get some more conservatives."
Outside groups poured $5.7 million into the race. The National Republican Congressional Committee was one of the biggest spenders as it sought to help Anderson, who raised just over $1 million.
Elsewhere, three Georgia congressmen — Republican Reps. Austin Scott of Tifton, Lynn Westmoreland of Sharpsburg and Paul Broun of Athens — faced no opposition. Broun recently sparked controversy when he told a church group that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory were "lies straight from the pit of hell." His critics urged voters to write-in Charles Darwin, the 19th century father of evolutionary theory, but those votes would not count.
Georgia's nine remaining congressional incumbents all defeated opponents who had little money or name recognition. They included Republican Reps. Jack Kingston of Savannah, Tom Price of Roswell, Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Tom Graves of Ranger, as well as Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop of Columbus, Hank Johnson of Decatur, John Lewis of Atlanta and David Scott of Riverdale.