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Comeback Kid?

Bob Barr Likely to Seek a Return to the House in 2004

While the jockeying among potential candidates in Georgia’s 6th district has for the most part been behind the scenes so far, two Republicans — including former Rep. Bob Barr (Ga.) — are inching closer to announcing their candidacies.

The solidly Republican seat is being vacated next year by Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who announced earlier this month that he is running for the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.).

A source close to Barr said Wednesday that the former Congressman is “99 percent there” when it comes to entering the House race. Barr will have one more meeting with his family before making his bid for the seat official, according to the source.

“Actions are in place for him to get in this race,” the source said.

Barr, who badly lost a primary to Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) last year, formed an exploratory committee to look at running for the House or Senate following Isakson’s announcement. He

will be a panelist at the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C., on Friday and has meetings set for this weekend with leaders of conservative groups who have supported him previously.

Meanwhile, former Cobb County Commission Chairman Bill Byrne (R) is also expected to announce his candidacy in the near future.

“We are close to making a decision on that,” Byrne said Wednesday, adding that at this point he is “looking at the finances as to what it’s going to take to win that seat.”

Byrne placed third in a gubernatorial primary last year. He said his biggest liability in running statewide was name recognition, which he noted is “now my biggest strength” in running for the 6th district seat.

The source close to Barr also listed the former lawmaker’s high name recognition and solid fundraising ability as assets.

“It will be as if they are running against an incumbent when it comes to money and name ID,” the source said, referring to the potential primary opponents.

Barr, who gained national prominence as a House manager during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, raised $3.2 million for his primary bid last cycle and has a national donor network he will be able to tap. He has already met with key leaders in the district, including Isakson, and sent out a national fundraising letter to fellow conservatives.

While Byrne acknowledged that Barr would be the frontrunner in the race when it comes to fundraising, he noted “money doesn’t dominate a Congressional race when all of the candidates are equally known.”

He also suggested that the former Congressman may carry more political baggage than other potential candidates.

“Bob’s a very good friend of mine, but he’s got a real liability,” Byrne said. “[He’s] earned the nickname ‘have moving van, will travel.’”

Barr represented the old 7th district for eight years before the Democratic-controlled state Legislature severely re-drew Congressional boundaries in 2001. Barr moved in order to run in the re-drawn 7th district — a heavily Republican seat — although the majority of the territory he represented is now in the reconfigured 11th district.

Byrne also contends that the 6th district, while staunchly Republican, trends even more socially moderate than the 7th district, where Barr was defeated by Linder. The 6th district was represented for years by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Isakson, who favors abortion rights, won the seat in a 1999 special election.

“Barr will not be warmly received,” Byrne predicted. “He’s going to have the same problems here that he had last year [in the 7th].”

Byrne also hinted at what could become a campaign theme down the road, the same contrast that Linder successfully used in the primary last year.

“I’m a workhorse, not a showhorse,” Byrne said. “That would be the dramatic difference between me and a Bob Barr, and I think that’s what people are looking for.”

Assuming they both announce, Barr and Byrne are not likely to be the only Republican candidates in the race.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Mike Kenn, state Senate Majority Leader Tom Price as well as state Sens. Robert Lamutt and Chuck Clay are among the other candidates eyeing bids.

Clay has said that he will not make a decision about running until the current General Assembly session adjourns in late March or early April.

State Reps. Earl Ehrhart, Roger Hines and Mark Burkhalter are also mentioned as possible candidates.

Meanwhile, Freshman Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) recently squashed speculation that he would run in the 6th instead of seeking re-election in his current swing 11th district. Gingrey’s home is just inside the 6th district.

“We’re definitely running in the 11th,” Gingrey spokesman Brian Robinson said Tuesday. “The Congressman has spent a year and a half building a grassroots network in the 11th district. … He’s really quite confident that he’s built good enough relationships, he’ll be able to win there in 2004.”

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