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Race Ratings: In Georgia, New Geography Won’t Hurt GOP

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed Georgia’s new Congressional map into law Sept. 7, substantially changing the geography of a number of GOP-held districts but shoring up Republican incumbents. The GOP-controlled Legislature drew Rep. John Barrow (D) out of his district and made it substantially more Republican.

The district Georgia gained in reapportionment was numbered as the 9th and placed in the northeastern part of the state. The Hall County-anchored district is exceedingly Republican and is home to Deal, the lieutenant governor and the state Speaker. The political muscle there should make for a rousing primary battle for 2012.

Should Barrow lose, the Georgia House delegation taking the oath in January 2013 appears likely to be made up of 10 Republicans and four Democrats. All the Democrats are likely to be African-Americans representing majority-minority districts.

1st district

Incumbent: Jack Kingston (R)

10th term (72 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

It will be almost impossible for Kingston to best his 2010 winning percentage in his new district, which now includes Democratic Savannah. But it will also be extremely difficult for him to lose the seat under any circumstances. The longtime Member has represented every part of his new district before and actually attends church in downtown Savannah.

Should Kingston retire, this is the kind of district Democrats would take a serious look at if they were facing a 2006-style wave election in their favor. But given how 2012 is shaping up, Kingston should easily win re-election.

2nd district

Incumbent: Sanford Bishop (D)

10th term (51 percent)

Rating: Likely Democrat

What a relief the new Congressional lines must have been for Bishop, who won re-election by a slim margin last fall. The 2nd is now a majority-minority district that would comfortably have gone for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

While Bishop remains more vulnerable than most other Democrats in the Peach State, it seems unlikely Republicans will expend much energy trying to unseat him.

3rd district

Incumbent: Lynn Westmoreland (R)

4th term (69 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Westmoreland’s new district is similar to his current district. And his prospects for re-election are similar, too: It’s a safe district for any Republican, and even more so for Westmoreland, who leads his party’s redistricting effort.

4th district

Incumbent: Hank Johnson (D)

3rd term (75 percent)

Rating: Safe Democrat

Not to worry, Johnson’s district in the eastern part of greater Atlanta won’t tip over. Though the new lines leave the 4th less Democratic, Johnson — who gained temporary Internet superstar status when he wondered during a committee hearing if increased population might lead the island of Guam to “tip over and capsize” — should comfortably win re-election.

5th district

Incumbent: John Lewis (D)

13th term (74 percent)

Rating: Safe Democrat

There are few districts more Democratic than the new 5th, which includes much of urban Atlanta. And although Lewis faces a primary challenge, it seems highly unlikely that anyone will unseat the civil rights icon.

6th district

Incumbent: Tom Price (R)

4th term (Uncontested)

Rating: Safe Republican

Price’s new district is substantially different from the current 6th in geography, but he should have no trouble winning under the new lines, which include the northern portions of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.

7th district

Incumbent: Rob Woodall (R)

1st term (67 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Woodall should cruise to his sophomore term in the House. The district’s new political slant will closely resemble its current one.

8th district

Incumbent: Austin Scott (R)

1st term (53 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

The redistricting process was good to Scott, who lost some of his more Democratic precincts to Bishop’s 2nd district and gained some GOP-leaning ones in return. He will run in a district that stretches from the Florida border to Monroe County and that would have voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) with more than 65 percent in 2008.

9th district

New district

Rating: Safe Republican

Though the general election here looks to be among the most yawn-inducing races of the cycle, the GOP primary in this Hall County-anchored new district has all the makings of an exciting establishment-versus-outsider battle.

The early frontrunners are tea-party-affiliated talk-radio host Martha Zoller and state Rep. Doug Collins (R), who has early support from a good chunk of the Georgia Republican establishment. Zoller hired Joel McElhannon, a well-regarded GOP operative, as her general consultant. Collins brought on Chip Lake, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland’s former chief of staff, as his general consultant. Brian Miller, former Sen. Zell Miller’s (D) grandson, is managing the Collins campaign. Deal won’t endorse in the race, but many vendors who worked for his 2010 campaign have signed on with Collins.

Since the Republican nominee will certainly be the next Congressman — the district would have voted more than 76 percent for McCain in 2008 — all the candidates in the primary will be playing for keeps.

10th district

Incumbent: Paul Broun (R)

2nd full term (67 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

There’s considerable buzz about Broun facing a primary challenge. He is gaining a substantial amount of new territory under the redrawn lines, but the doctor will probably diagnose and dispatch any GOP rivals without too many complications. Broun has one of the better grass-roots organizations in the state, and he has the support of some pretty important players.

“The governor is close personal friends with Congressman Broun and will endorse him if he faces a primary opponent,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson told Roll Call.

The political contours of the new district remain quite favorable to the GOP, and Democrats acknowledge that there’s almost no chance this district will flip in 2012.

11th district

Incumbent: Phil Gingrey (R)

5th term (Uncontested)

Rating: Safe Republican

The newly drawn district will give Gingrey a few hundred thousand new constituents. He’ll get a fundraising boost from adding the wealthy and Republican-
leaning northern Atlanta area of Buckhead to his territory. Not that he needs a boost — he had $1.6 million in cash on hand on June 30. And he’ll be plenty safe — 66 percent of the new district’s voters would have voted for McCain.

12th district

Incumbent: John Barrow (D)

4th term (57 percent)

Rating: Tossup

The new Congressional lines might as well have been in the shape of a big target on Barrow’s back — the Legislature put his political future in real peril. While he will no longer live in the 12th district, Barrow’s office said he will definitely run for another term there. Democratic-leaning Savannah moved to another district and the 12th gained the strongly Republican suburbs of Augusta. Under the new lines, a little less than 60 percent of voters would have cast their ballot for McCain in 2008. (Obama won Barrow’s current district with 54 percent of the vote.) The changes make winning another term substantially more difficult for Barrow, a co-chairman of the conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition.

Still, Barrow is a wily survivor who managed to remain in Congress after Georgia’s 2005 redistricting drew him out of his first district. He is known as a hard worker and a smart campaigner, so the new lines alone are not enough to close the book on his Congressional career. Also, the fact that Obama will be on the top of the ticket in 2012 should help increase Democratic turnout all over Georgia. Barrow raised just more than $400,000 in the second quarter and had $490,000 in cash on hand at the end of June.

Only state Rep. Lee Anderson (R) has announced against Barrow. Raymond McKinney, who lost to Barrow in 2010, is among the other Republicans pondering a bid. Businessman Rick Allen may also enter the race. Anderson, a high-grade hay farmer and tractor salesman from Columbia County in the northern part of the district, was elected to the state House in 2008. Before that, he was engaged in local politics, serving on the county board of education.

13th district

Incumbent: David Scott (D)

5th term (69 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Scott’s new C-shaped district curves from the southern portion of Cobb County through Douglas, Fulton, Fayette, Clayton and Henry counties. Though the new 13th is slightly less Democratic than the current one, Scott should easily win a 6th term.

14th district

Incumbent: Tom Graves (R)

1st full term (Uncontested)

Rating: Safe Republican

Graves may pull a primary challenger or two in this newly drawn and newly numbered district that includes about half of the territory he currently represents. Two potential opponents include former Paulding County Commission Chairman Jerry Shearin and businessman Steve Tarvin.

“He just doesn’t meet my values and principles,” Tarvin told Roll Call, adding he would decide on a bid in the next month. But even Tarvin admits it will be difficult for any potential opponents to get to the right of Graves’ voting record. Republicans in the state said Graves is seen as likely to be re-elected, despite the potential primary challenges, in what will remain a very comfortable GOP district for years to come.

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