Dems defend an incumbent in Georgia's 12th

Posted: Jun 08, 2006 12:05 AM

A wrench was recently thrown into the battle for Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, currently held by Democrat John Barrow.

In mid-May a Georgia Superior Court judge ruled Georgia’s state-level marriage amendment unconstitutional, based on a technicality. Efforts are underway in the Georgia General Assembly to rectify the technical problems and return the amendment to the people on a ballot referendum in November. However, the Georgia Supreme Court will review the ruling, possibly before the deadline for the legislature to return the issue to the voters.

Meantime, obtained interviews with spokesmen for both the John Barrow and Max Burns campaigns. Both campaigns commented on the effects of the ruling, as well as other campaign-related issues.

Marriage Amendment speculates that the Republican voter turnout will increase significantly in Georgia if the Georgia General Assembly is able to return yet another marriage amendment to a voter referendum.

Tim Baker, Max Burns’ campaign manager, said, “We need to wait and see how the Georgia Supreme Court will rule now that they agreed to expedite the case. Certainly if the marriage amendment is back on the ballot it can help with Republican turnout, but everything we are seeing right now is that the Republican base is motivated and excited.”  

Harper Lawson, communications director for Congressman Barrow, pointed to a statement released by the congressman’s office immediately after the ruling. In the statement, Congressman Barrow said that the vote in 2004 affirmed strong-held values and beliefs of people all across Georgia. He added, “Unfortunately, the people’s will was overturned in state court [on May 16th] on a legal technicality.”  Barrow continued, “I believe that any individual has the right to live his or her life as they please within the law, but I also believe that marriage should follow law and tradition and remain between a man and a woman. Like most Georgians I hope that the Georgia Supreme Court will overturn yesterday’s ruling. But I’m not willing to stand by as the will of the people is cast aside on technicalities.”

As evidence of Barrow’s unwillingness to allow the courts to overrule marriage amendments state by state, he has cosponsored two bills in Congress that deal with the marriage issue: a Constitutional Amendment (HR 39), and the Marriage Protection Act (HR 1100), which would limit court jurisdiction on marriage issues.


A tried and true strategy of any congressional campaign is the attempt to paint the opposition as out of touch with the voters and connect the opposition with 'undesirables.' The strategy is hard at work in this race.

Lawson said, “Max Burns has already labeled himself out of touch with the 12th District—he’s a defeated ex-congressman turned Washington lobbyist who voted with Tom DeLay 95 percent of the time when [Burns] was in Congress. And now he wants to be a congressman again? Max Burns is a case study in what's wrong with Washington—the ‘revolving door’: congressman gets voted out of office because he doesn't share the values of his constituents. Defeated ex-congressman becomes a special interest lobbyist. Lobbyist runs for Congress again.” 

After his ouster from Congress in 2004, Burns joined the team of Thelen Reid & Priest, an international law firm with an office in Washington. Burns served as a senior policy advisor for the governmental affairs division. 

Burns’ spokesman Baker said, “Voters in the 12th District are beginning to see who the real John Barrow is. John Barrow has said we need to ‘assimilate’ illegal aliens already in our country and even voted three times against restricting government benefits for illegal aliens.” Furthermore, Baker added, “John Barrow sides with liberal environmental groups that support his campaign, voting six times against decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. [Barrow] is not providing any leadership whatsoever.  John Barrow has even been ranked the least effective member of the Georgia Congressional Delegation. 


When asked about their internal poll numbers, Baker pointed out that their polls show Burns has caught up with Barrow. He explained, “Yes, we do have good poll numbers and not only are they good, but they show Max Burns caught John Barrow eight months before Election Day. Max Burns and John Barrow are in a statistical dead heat with Burns getting 42 percent and Barrow getting 43 percent. What is even more encouraging is that 35 percent of the voters in the new 12th District want to give someone new a chance while only 28 percent want to re-elect John Barrow. Even though he is not in office at this time, Max Burns’ name ID is much stronger than John Barrow’s.”

Barrow’s campaign does not release internal poll numbers, but Lawson pointed out the demographics and voting history of the Georgia 12th swing very well in Barrow’s favor. Documents prepared by the Georgia Reapportionment Office showed some interesting facts about the 12th’s voting trends. In 2004, John Kerry picked up 50.20 percent of the vote versus 49.55 percent for President Bush. Overall, in 2004 the 12th voted 49.76 percent for Democrats and 47.11 percent for Republicans. However, in the 2002 cycle, in which Congressman Burns won the original election for the 12th District, the voters chose Democrats 58.15 percent of the time. This brings us to our final point.


Conceivably, turnout for the 2006 midterm elections would mimic that of the 2002 election (surprisingly won by Burns), instead of the presidential election-year numbers of 2004. Experts in southern politics and trends, such as Merle Black at Emory University or Charles Bullock at the University of Georgia, often point out that Democrats in Southern states must reside in districts with black populations of above 30 percent. The Georgia 12th is 41.49 percent black, according to the Georgia Reapportionment Office, which is why the Georgia marriage amendment is critical to the Burns campaign. If the referendum is on the ballot then Republicans can count on increased turnout. Even then, the demographics of the district weigh in Barrow’s favor.

However, if the Burns internal polls are indeed accurate both incumbent and challenger have a chance at this seat in November.