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Obama backs Barrow in congressional primary
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    SAVANNAH, Ga. — Barack Obama has recorded a radio ad supporting U.S. Rep. John Barrow in his Democratic primary race against a state lawmaker — a surprising endorsement aimed at helping the white incumbent win crucial black votes next month.
    The advertisement featuring Obama began airing this week throughout Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, where blacks make up 42 percent of the population and could easily form a solid majority of Democratic primary voters July 15.
    Barrow’s primary opponent, state Sen. Regina Thomas of Savannah, is the first black challenger to face the conservative white Democrat since he first ran for the House seat in 2004.
    The 60-second radio ad opens with Obama introducing himself by name and urging voters to support Barrow ‘‘to help change Washington and get our country back on track.’’
    ‘‘He’s already standing up to the lobbyists and the Republicans who go right down the line with George Bush,’’ Obama says.
    Barrow, a Democratic superdelegate, endorsed Obama in late February. Though he waited until after Obama won Georgia’s Feb. 5 presidential primary, Barrow joined a flood of superdelegates whose support helped the Illinois senator gain the momentum to overtake rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
    Still, Obama’s decision to get involved in a contested primary is surprising.
    As a general rule, both Democratic and Republican party leaders refrain from publicly supporting candidates until after their primaries are settled, said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
    ‘‘My impression is it’s very unusual, because you’re bound to make some enemies in the process,’’ Black said Thursday. ‘‘By going with Barrow, it looks like it’s a favor in return for Barrow’s support in the nomination process. But I think it would be very divisive among a lot of African-American voters in the district.’’
    Obama’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he is supporting other candidates in Democratic primaries.
    Barrow is seeking third term in a sprawling district that covers much of Savannah and Augusta as well as large swath of rural eastern Georgia including Statesboro, Vidalia and Milledgeville.
    His opponent, Thomas, is well-known in Savannah after 12 years in the state Legislature, but she’s virtually unknown in the rest of the district. She acknowledges running a shoestring campaign with an all-volunteer staff and barely enough money to pay for gas.
    Thomas said she wasn’t bothered by Obama endorsing her opponent, but called his assertion that Barrow is standing up to Bush’s Republican supporters ‘‘an outright lie.’’
    Barrow has supported Bush on issues such as the president’s signature tax cuts and Iraq war — both of which Obama opposes.
    ‘‘Barrow supports Bush and his agenda, which Obama doesn’t know and his people should be telling him,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘If Obama knew Barrow’s voting record ... then I don’t think he would’ve said what he said in the commercial.’’
    Barrow said Obama agreed to endorse him because they’re both working to improve the economy for middle-class Americans. He said the endorsement had nothing to do with Barrow pledging to support Obama in February.
    ‘‘This endorsement doesn’t mean Sen. Obama agrees with me on 100 percent of the issues or that I agree with him 100 percent of the time,’’ Barrow said.
    Three Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination in the 12 District — former congressional aide John Stone of Augusta, former Savannah talk radio host Ben Crystal and Ray McKinney of Savannah, who decided to run for Congress after scrapping a longshot presidential bid.
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