SAVANNAH — Being left politically homeless by the new Georgia congressional map hasn't stopped Rep. John Barrow from raising piles of cash for a tough re-election fight.
Meanwhile, a Republican businessman seeking to challenge the Democrat nearly matched him dollar-for-dollar at the end of 2011 — though only by digging deep into his own pockets.
Barrow, a four-term incumbent and the last white Democrat remaining in Congress from the Deep South, is a top Republican target in the 2012 elections after GOP state lawmakers redrew his 12th District last year to carve out his home base of Savannah and replace it with more conservative rural and
Still, campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show Barrow's donors haven't given up on him. He raised $272,266 in the last three months of 2011 — the most money Barrow has ever raked in during the last quarter before an election year. Overall Barrow reported he's got $903,789 in the bank to defend his seat in November.
"We're going to battle to save his seat," said Lowell Greenbaum, Democratic Party chairman for Richmond County, where Augusta is now expected to give Barrow his biggest base of support. "I think he's confident in his ability and in what he's done."
Greenbaum said Barrow told Democratic supporters at a meeting Monday that he's looking for a new home in Augusta. Congressmen aren't required to live in their districts, but voters can be turned off by outsiders. Barrow has moved before to stay within his district's boundaries. During his first term, lawmakers retooled Barrow's district to chop out his longtime home in Athens.
Four Republicans already are campaigning for the June 31 GOP primary in hopes of being selected to challenge Barrow. Three of them have already reported raising healthy, six-figure sums.
The district's top Republican fundraiser is Rick W. Allen, owner of an Augusta construction company, who reported hauling in $271,675 in campaign cash in the final quarter of last year. That's nearly what Barrow raised. However, Allen's total includes $80,000 that he's loaned his own campaign. He had $204,751 still in the bank.
Fellow Republican contender Wright McLeod, an Evans attorney, raised $134,642 and still had $130,337 of it in his campaign account.
State Rep. Lee Anderson, a farmer from Grovetown, raised $58,132 during the quarter. That brings his total fundraising to $140,182, though Anderson reported having $83,809 still on hand. As a state lawmaker, Anderson is prohibited from further fundraising until the Legislature finishes its 2012 session.
Brian Slowinski, GOP chairman for Columbia County, said he's encouraged to see at least three potential Republican challengers with promising bank balances. Barrow's last Republican opponent, Ray McKinney, raised just $135,000 for his entire campaign in 2010.
"What the numbers tell me is Barrow's got a race on his hands," Slowinski said. "It speaks volumes that people want change in the 12th District."
However, with a primary race still looming, Slowinski said it's important the GOP candidates spend their money attacking Barrow and not going after each other "in a circular firing squad."
The Republican-controlled state Legislature redrew Georgia's congressional districts last year following the 2010 Census. By losing Savannah, Barrow lost a chunk of the black voters who make up a large part of his base. However, the self-described "flaming moderate" has worked hard to appeal to crossover voters and has been known to buck President Barack Obama — most prominently by voting against the president's overhaul of the health care system.
Georgia gained one new House district in north Georgia centered around Gainesville — the home of Gov. Nathan Deal. It's a seat that leans heavily Republican, so the GOP primary will be the real contest.
Two contenders for the seat reported neck-and-neck fundraising in the fourth quarter. Martha Zoller, who hosts a conservative talk-radio show on Maysville station WXKT, raised $60,549 compared to $59,899 raised in the same period by Gainesville state Rep. Doug Collins.
However, Collins has raised the most money overall — $174,134 compared to Zoller's $89,580. He also reported the most money still in the bank, $114,268, far more than the $19,368 Zoller had left on hand.
A third Republican candidate in the north Georgia primary, Jackson County Commission chairman Hunter Bicknell, reported raising $13,359 with $6,499 left in his campaign account.