SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- While Georgia Republicans have to wait until July to settle runoff races for the U.S. Senate and three open House seats, one of the biggest GOP victories in the primary elections last week went to Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen.
The primary race for a shot a challenging Democratic Rep. John Barrow of Augusta in the fall drew five Republican candidates, a number that makes it tough for one candidate to rally a majority of voters and avoid a runoff. But Allen crushed the competition Tuesday and won the Republican nomination with a commanding 54 percent of the vote. His closest GOP rival got less than 17 percent.
That's good news for Republicans, who are burning for a rematch with Barrow after the Democrat beat the odds in 2012 and won a re-election race he was supposed to lose. Barrow has been a top target of the national Republican Party since he first won office in 2004. The GOP had its best chance two years ago after Barrow's district was redrawn to carve out Savannah, the congressman's home and a critical chunk of his Democratic base. Barrow moved to Augusta and spent $2.8 million running as a maverick who defies party labels. He won with 54 percent of the vote. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney carried the district by the same margin.
"Barrow's a hard worker, nobody can take that away from him and he's a great fundraiser," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who has a big interest in the race as deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "We think we've got somebody who can actually match him. We're all excited about it."
Allen, the 62-year-old owner of an Augusta construction company, was the runner-up in a GOP primary runoff for Barrow's seat two years ago that left both Republican contenders drained of cash and battered from attacking each other. No runoff this year gives Allen two extra months to replenish his campaign account after spending more than $634,000 on the primary. Barrow had no Democratic primary opponent and reported $1.5 million in the bank April 30.
Allen's campaign declined to make the candidate available for an interview after his primary win last week. Instead, it issued a prepared statement in which Allen promised to plunge straight into the fall race in the 12th District, which covers 19 counties and includes the cities of Augusta, Statesboro, Dublin and Vidalia.
"We can now take this fight directly to John Barrow and Barack Obama and that is what we are going to do starting right here, right now," Allen said.
His words echo a strategy tried before by Anderson and other Republicans - to tie Barrow to Obama and Democratic leaders who are unpopular with many 12th District voters. It's a line of attack Barrow has proven skilled at deflecting.
Barrow voted against Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010, a move that outraged fellow Democrats. In his 2012 race the Democrat stressed his support for gun ownership in a TV ad that featured him cocking a rifle. This year he's joined Republicans in supporting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki over chronic delays in medical care for veterans.
But Barrow also makes appeals to core Democrats. He's opposed repealing Obama's health care law, saying it should be changed rather than scrapped. Barrow also supports increasing the U.S. minimum wage, which Allen opposes. The congressman said in a phone interview he's confident voters prefer his independent record to any challenger running as a staunch partisan.
"The choice I think in this race is going to be pretty much what we've seen before: Do you think we need to be more bipartisan and work together or get our backs up and dig in and just fight the other side because it's the other side," Barrow said. "A lot of folks back home realize both brands are tainted."