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Can John Barrow Survive His Constituents' Anger Over His Bad Health Care Vote?

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Although John Barrow is a new resident to Savannah with no roots in the community, he knows that the Morning News' Larry Peterson is the political reporter with his finger on the pulse of his adopted district. So the scared little man who has thrown his lot in with the rich white Republican establishment-- which has never really been enamored of him to begin with--must be shaking like a leaf today. Peterson says aloud what everyone in GA-12 but Barrow knows: a backlash among African-Americans, a major part of the Democratic base in the district (perhaps 60% of primary voters), is looming large because of his health care vote. For one thing, Barrow's vote against health care reform, opens up the need to look at his entire, despicable, anti-working family voting record. And his Democratic opponent, former state Senator Regina Thomas, whose roots in the community and long and deep, has been helping community leaders to understand who John Barrow really is and how he works against their interests.

Resentment is seething among black political leaders against Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow after his vote against a major health care bill.

The measure, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's agenda, passed the House narrowly Sunday; Obama signed it into law Tuesday.

At least two black state lawmakers who backed the Savannah congressman in 2008 - or were neutral - now favor Regina Thomas, his July 20 primary election foe.

And Savannah Mayor Pro Tem Edna Jackson, long a key Barrow ally, says she won't be in the primary. She wouldn't elaborate, but had sought his vote for the health bill.

Other black leaders accused him of abandoning his black constituents.

"He has no respect for the people of color who are the majority of people who voted for him," said the Rev. Bennie Mitchell Jr., pastor of Connor's Temple Baptist Church. "There is no way I can support him."

Chatham County Democratic chairman Tony Center said Barrow is in "a lot of trouble" because of his vote... State Rep. Bob Bryant, D-Garden City, who backed Barrow two years ago, has endorsed Thomas. So has state Rep. Mickey Stephens, D-Savannah, who didn't take sides when Thomas, who is black, ran-- and lost-- against Barrow in 2008.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Craig Gordon, D-Savannah-- also neutral in 2008-- said he's now less likely to support Barrow.

The legislators-- who represent parts of the 12th District-- and Mitchell were among those who tried during a Saturday conference call persuade Barrow to reconsider his vote.

"His mind was made up and he wasn't willing to listen," said Bryant, who said he'll vote for a Republican-- or not at all-- if Thomas loses. At least four people are seeking the GOP nomination.

"(Barrow) really ticked me off," said Stephens. "I have people in my district call me every day. They don't have health insurance. They're hurting."

Barrow was able to win the 2008 primary for two reasons: people tend to vote for incumbents of their own party unless they have a strong reason not to (and not enough was known about Barrow at the time for voters to make a rational choice; Regina having almost no budget to get out the message); and because Obama made a you-scratch-my-back/I'll-scratch-yours dealwith him. Obama thought he needed Barrow's help to defeat Hillary, so he bought him off-- just the way every special interest buys him off. Obama cut a radio spot for Barrow; that was his whole campaign. This year, with Barrow having voted consistently with the GOP on almost all of the close, substantive votes (only 35% with Democrats since Obama was elected), it's not likely Obama will save Barrow's ass again-- especially not against a beloved state Senator whose whole political career has been dedicated to the very issues Obama has been championing. Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist who watches Georgia politics carefully predicts that "if the African American community turns it's back on him," Barrow will be defeated.

I've been talking with progressive members of Congress about supporting progressive challengers and have meet with absolute steely refusal. Even the congressmen they despise-- like Barrow-- they refuse to go up against. They're all part of the same horrible incumbent protection racket. A friend at the DCCC, railing about his vote against the healthcare bill, told me "off the record" that he hopes Blue America can help Regina Thomas defeat him. The Congressional Black Caucus is seething at Barrow now. According to CQPolitics "Even before the votes were cast, the political implications were starting to play out for... Barrow."

Some aides said the message delivered to Barrow was clear: If he opposed it, he could expect to see CBC support for a primary challenger.

Corrine Brown, whose North Florida district is near Barrow's, said she leveled no threats in the three conversations she had with Barrow to urge his support, on behalf of his black constituents. But she said she would no longer travel to Savannah to campaign for him, as she has in past races. "He was very nice in our conversations," she said, "but nice isn't what I'm looking for. Members who represent large numbers of African-Americans should be sensitive to the people they represent. Health care is the new civil rights."

Good for Corrine. But in the end of the day, it's the grassroots in eastern George who will determine whether an elitist Republican-lite clown with buffoonish visions of senatorial splendor will represent them or if a sincere and hardworking true Blue Democrat is better suited for the job. Saturday, Regina will be the Blue America special guest at Crooks and Liars for a live blogging session at 2pm (est). If you'd like to help her get out her message, and help her alert Georgia voters that there's a fox on the henhouse, please think about contributing to her campaign here.