SAVANNAH — U.S. Rep. John Barrow, formerly of Athens and Savannah, is now a resident of Augusta after Georgia political mapmakers essentially forced the Democrat to move for the second time since he won election to Congress eight years ago.
Real estate records reviewed by The Associated Press show that Barrow bought a home in Augusta on March 15. He sold his house in Savannah the same day.
"The law doesn't require it, but I think it's important," Barrow said Thursday. "It's important to be a part of the community you represent just to participate in all the parts of community living that don't involve politics."
Barrow is the last white House Democrat from the Deep South, and the GOP has made him a top target in the fall campaigns after Barrow's eastern Georgia district was redrawn last year.
He was barely able to move into his three-bedroom house before the National Republican Congressional Committee paid for a billboard in Augusta that shows Barrow flanked by President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi above the words: "A Democrat Like Every Other." The committee said it's also spending $40,000 on local television ads linking Barrow with Obama — calling them "the wrong pairing for Georgia" — while residents are glued to the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club through the weekend.
Barrow opted to move rather than seek re-election as an outsider to his own district after the Republican-controlled state Legislature redrew Georgia's congressional map last year. The changes carved Savannah, Barrow's home for six years, out of his 12th District seat.
The Democrat initially ran for Congress in 2004 from his hometown of Athens, which lawmakers dropped from the district before Barrow's first re-election campaign two years later. That prompted his move to Savannah in 2006.
Congressmen don't have to live in their districts, but being seen as an outsider can turn off voters. Barrow's new district replaces Savannah, a city packed with Democrat-leaning black voters, with more conservative rural and suburban communities.
Seeing their best chance to oust Barrow in years, four Republicans — Augusta construction company owner Rick W. Allen, farmer and state Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown, Evans attorney Wright McLeod and Dublin attorney Maria Sheffield — are already running ahead of the July 31 primary.
"Where Congressman Barrow lives is not important to the taxpayers" in the district, said Sheffield, who herself moved from metro Atlanta to southeast Georgia to run for Barrow's seat. "His support for Obama is why he is going to lose this election."
Barrow's ties to the president aren't that simple. Obama endorsed Barrow in a radio ad when the congressman faced primary opposition from a Savannah state lawmaker in 2008. But the congressman outraged several Democratic leaders in his district when he voted against Obama's health care overhaul.
Republicans still bash Barrow for supporting stimulus and bailout spending championed by the president, and they note Barrow did not support GOP attempts to repeal the health care law. Still, Barrow has called for striking some provisions of the health overhaul, such as requiring employers with more than 50 workers provide health insurance.
A self-described "flaming moderate," Barrow said he's confident voters not only appreciate but embrace his independent streak.
"Folks recognize phony baloney when they see it," Barrow said of GOP attempts to link him with Obama. "I have taken my licks from the extremes on both sides precisely because I have an independent voting record."