Georgia Runoffs Paint Incomplete Picture

by Jessica Taylor August 22, 2012 · 10:26 AM EDT

Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) remains one of the most endangered incumbents in the country, but he also remains without a firm opponent, after Tuesday’s runoff failed to produce a clear winner.

With all precincts reporting in the 12th District GOP runoff, state Rep. Lee Anderson led businessman Rick Allen by just 154 votes, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. According to Georgia state law, a candidate can request a recount within 48 hours of ballots being certified if the margin is less than 1 percent. According to the Savannah Morning News, Allen’s campaign says that remains an option.

Barrow saw his district stripped of its Savannah base during redistricting, taking on more conservative rural areas and morphing into a district with an 11-point GOP tilt -- one of the most dramatic shifts of any district in the country.

Republicans in Georgia and Washington believe either potential GOP opponent brings attractive qualities to the race to unseat Barrow, one of the final remaining white Democrats in the South. Anderson has more rural roots and could appeal to the new rural areas, while the wealthy Allen has the ability to self-fund and is seen as the more polished candidate.

Either way, national Republicans have made unseating Barrow a top priority. The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved $911,000 for radio and TV advertising in both the Augusta and Savannah media markets through Election Day, and just released an ad on Tuesday featuring Obama’s endorsement, in the President’s own voice, from a Barrow ad from 2010 when the congressman faced an African-American primary challenger.

Barrow, who has reserved $1 million in television airtime for the fall, just went up with his first ad, boasting how he’s disagreed with Obama on cap and trade and trade deals but touting how he agrees with the president on small business tax credits. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved nearly $420,000 of TV for Barrow this fall, and the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC has reserved $350,000. We currently rate this race as Lean Republican.

In the only other closely-watched race in the Peach State on Tuesday, state Rep. Doug Collins is likely headed to Congress to represent the state’s new 9th District. Collins won the GOP runoff, 55 percent to 45 percent, over radio host Martha Zoller. Collins had the backing of most of the state’s Republican establishment, while Zoller, a longtime conservative talk radio host, had worked to rally tea party support in the bitter campaign, but ultimately that wasn’t enough.