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Jim Healy: What did GOP learn?
James Healy

      While I can't imagine what it was like for folks living in Ohio or Virginia and being overwhelmed with political ads wherever you were, I'm not going to miss the ads from Lee Anderson and John Barrow that ran like machine-gun fire on television during the past month.
      As we all know, Barrow won a fifth term to represent the 12th Congressional District, despite having his district redrawn by the Republican Legislature to create a majority Republican district. But the Republicans discovered something the Democrats learned 10 years ago.
      Lots of money and more voters aligned with your party can't overcome the wrong candidate.
      In 2002, the 12th District was created by the then-Democratic Legislature as a majority Democrat district, in which it was expected a Democrat would win easily.
      After a tough primary fight among six Democrats, Charles "Champ" Walker Jr. emerged as the nominee.
Former Georgia Southern professor Max Burns earned the Republican nomination in 2002 after defeating Barbara Dooley, the wife of UGA football legend Vince Dooley, in the primary. Immediately after earning the nomination, it still was thought Walker would win.
      But soon after Walker's past problems with legal issues came out, his refusal to debate Burns publicly and his inability to state a clear message for why he should be elected to Congress, it became clear he was in trouble politically.
      Burns went on to win rather easily, besting Walker by 10 percentage points. Many traditional Democrats voted against Walker by voting for Burns.
      There are lots of similarities between the 2002 and 2012 elections.
      In 2012, Lee Anderson emerged after a tough primary and runoff fight as the Republican nominee. He refused to debate Barrow in a public forum and offered no strong ideas for why he should be elected over a popular incumbent.
      The Republican National Committee, which has targeted Barrow for years, and several GOP super PACs contributed millions of dollars to Anderson's campaign. Like the Democrats in 2002, too many Republicans believed the majority GOP district was good enough in and of itself to take the seat away from Barrow.
      But Barrow has been an effective congressman ever since he took office in 2004. He has always been a conservative Democrat and is not afraid to buck party leadership on votes he doesn't believe best represent his district. He has been a strong advocate for veterans and played an instrumental role in getting a VA Clinic to locate in Statesboro. He always receives high marks for his constituent service from Republicans and Democrats alike.
      Still, despite his credentials, in the 2010 election Barrow was soundly defeated in GOP strongholds like Bulloch County, but won the election by eight percentage points with the enormous support of Democrats in Savannah and Augusta.
      So just looking at numbers, it's easy to understand why state Republican legislators thought they had created a safe GOP seat for the 2012 cycle. It was assumed the massive tide against Barack Obama in the new district would carry over to the congressional race. The wild card they didn't foresee was a candidate in Lee Anderson who could not generate any enthusiasm among GOP voters. Especially against a candidate who many Republican voters felt comfortable with and would not simply vote against because he had a "D" next to his name.
      Also, like Anderson, Barrow, had millions of dollars in campaign financing to support his re-election and an endorsement from the National Rifle Association in his pocket - one of only a handful of Democrats across the nation to receive an NRA endorsement.
      On Tuesday, Barrow won by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent, and he even carried Bulloch County by more than 1,000 votes. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the two years leading up to the 2014 election. Will the Republicans learn what the Democrats discovered in 2002 - you must have a good candidate, not just good numbers?
      In 2003, John Barrow came into my office and told me he would be the next congressman because he had a good record and good ideas to run on. And the numbers favored a Democrat winning the seat, he added. He beat Max Burns in 2004.
      The numbers will favor the Republicans in 2014, too. Will they have the right candidate to win the seat?

      James Healy is operations manager for the Statesboro Herald. He can be reached at (912) 489-9402.



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