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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Posted: March 29, 2010 01:08 PM

Can Georgia Progressive Regina Thomas Replace Anti-Healthcare Blue Dog John Barrow?

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On Saturday at Crooks and Liars Blue America endorsed Regina Thomas, a former Georgia state Senator with a progressive voting record completely oriented towards working families who gave up her safe seat to run against John Barrow. The grassroots, progressive PAC endorsed the Savannah-based, community-oriented grandmother largely because she's campaigning on a platform that emphasizes how the money being squandered on senseless wars in the Middle East would be better used helping ordinary American families in terms of infrastructure, education, housing, health care, aid to small businesses and job creation. And then there's her opponent, Blue Dog John Barrow.

I first met Barrow when he was running for a seat in an Athens-based congressional district that has since been gerrymandered into a Republican seat (held by bizarre extremist Paul Broun). But the year I met Barrow, he won that seat. And I helped him. At the time I worked at Warner Bros Records and he was recommended by one of our top bands, politically active guys and completely committed to progressive ideals. I donated heavily to Barrow's campaign and he was impressed enough to call me and personally tell me that he was about to go into a debate with his Republican opponent and throw the LGBT community under the bus because ... it was that kind of a district. He seemed frightened. I asked him why he was calling me to tell me that. He didn't have a coherent answer. A pandering coward, he did throw gays and lesbians under the bus and he did win the seat. It was the last time we ever spoke.

He joined the Blue Dog caucus and embarked on a congressional career of scurrying across the aisle and voting with the Republicans on one important issue after another. That didn't stop the Georgia Republican Party from trying to exterminate him. At the first opportunity, they put his heavily Democratic Athens base into a district that ... well, that elects a raving teabagger like Paul Broun. Barrow fled to heavily Democratic Savannah halfway across the state and the new Democratic-leaning district there. Even though he wound up in a more Democratic district, his voting record continued turning more and more Republican and his stances changed completely from that of a liberal-to-moderate Athens city councilman -- albeit a spineless one -- to a special interests-oriented arch conservative.

When Regina Thomas looked at his record in 2008 she realized he couldn't win a Democratic primary. She decided to run against him, even if taking on an incumbent of one's own party is always the most thankless of tasks. Although labor unions had always endorsed her previous races, and although Barrow conspires with Republicans against working families on a consistent basis, labor unions almost never go up against Democratic incumbents; they endorsed Barrow. So did Barack Obama. And that was the whole ballgame. The radio spot Obama cut for Barrow really was the whole campaign. McCain's 45% showing in GA-12 was his weakest Georgia total anywhere outside the Atlanta Metro area. Regina, with no money for getting out her message, was trying to talk to busy, hard-pressed constituents about her opponent's voting record in Washington -- sometimes on obscurely-worded votes ... while Obama was telling them every day on the radio that Barrow was the man.

He was re-elected handily -- and, arrogantly, he turned further to the right. His career score at ProgressivePunch on the tough, substantive votes that closely divide the two parties is an abysmal 55.10. But since Obama saved his ass in 2008, his score has dropped to a startling 35.37. That means that for every tough vote he casts with the Democrats, he casts two with the GOP. At the urging of a growing base of local leaders, Regina jumped into the race again. And then something happened that changed everything.

The health care debate started breaking through the cacophony of media clutter. People in Savannah and Augusta and Statesboro and Vidalia and even Milledgeville started getting the message that not all contemporary Democrats are like FDR and JFK or even Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. They started understanding what a Blue Dog is -- as opposed to what a real Democrat is. When Barrow followed his anti-health care votes in committee, and his anti-health care procedural votes with an actual vote against health care his constituents were stunned -- and angry. Community leaders started turning against him. He's become a pariah in his own district -- although not among Republicans, who kind of like him. They have their own candidate though and are eager to replace Barrow with him. Barrow has delusions of running for the U.S. Senate and thinks his Republican record will win him a seat. It's a losing strategy being employed this year by Charlie Melancon in Louisiana, Kendrick Meek in Florida and Artur Davis in Alabama. They're all seeking higher office by pandering to conservatives and -- with due respects to hardworking and dedicated Democrats in their states -- they're all destined for history's trash bin.

Last week John Barrow was on the wrong side of history. The DNC, the Congressional Black Caucus and even -- off the record, of course -- the DCCC are all pissed off at him. Rep. Corrine Brown from a neighboring district in north Florida has already told him she won't be campaigning for him this year like she has in the past. Barrow, beloved of corporate interests, has a daunting financial advantage over Regina. And Democratic Party-oriented institutional donors, like unions and women's and environmental organizations, haven't pitched in to help defeat an incumbent. At least not yet. They're all looking for seed money. Blue America is hoping to get that going and if you'd like to donate, you can do it through ActBlue.

Blue America also unveiled a new web ad, put together through the efforts of Steve Foster and Sean Hanish of Donkey on the Edge and musicians Russell and Dana Greene working off the Squirrel Nuts Zippers/Rickie Lee Jones Blue America campaign song from several years ago. Please take a look (below). The idea is to turn it into a 30 second TV spot that can be deployed in eastern Georgia the same way that Blue America deployed a devastating series of Blanche Lincoln spots in eastern Arkansas. If you'd like to help with that, please, after you contribute to Regina's campaign, put a little something in the Blue America PAC box too.

 

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