Jim Barksdale sounds a populist note in Georgia Senate bid

Democrat Jim Barksdale sounded more like Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton in his first press conference Thursday, calling for stiffer regulations on the financial industry and a withdrawal from foreign conflicts.

That's a significant shift in policy for a party whose recent nominees for U.S. Senate have embraced more moderate stances to beat Republican incumbents. And Barksdale, an Atlanta investment manager who wrapped up the Democratic nomination two days ago, made clear that he was aiming to energize his party's liberal base in his November campaign against Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

He assailed Wall Street firms, which he said have too much power over the nation’s economy. He panned trade deals that he said have hurt middle class workers. And he repeatedly criticized U.S. involvement in Iraq and elsewhere.

“We spent trillions of dollars on wars in the Middle East that were completely unnecessary and have not made us safe, and I oppose those wars,” he said. “And I oppose the deregulation of financial markets. And I think my positions are frankly more conservative in that sense in what it takes to make the country grow.”

Barksdale, who has already pumped more than $1 million of his own fortune into the race, also spoke warmly of expanding Medicaid to bolster struggling rural hospitals. And he talked of the need to make college education more affordable, though he didn’t outline how.

He drew the line at raising taxes, sticking to the mantra that cutting government waste and withdrawing from international conflicts can raise the revenue needed for social programs and infrastructure improvements back home.

“I’m not for raising taxes. I’m for auditing the government, reducing our spending … There are plenty of areas of waste,” he said. “And meanwhile we need a new path in terms of foreign wars. Let’s face it. It’s doing nothing to make us safer, and basically, it’s cost us trillions of dollars.”

For Barksdale, who has already spent more than $1 million of his own fortune on the campaign, Thursday's press conference was an introduction of sorts. He's had few public events since joining the race in March, but pressure is mounting as a November contest looms against Isakson, a media savvy two-term incumbent favored to win.

Libertarian Allen Buckley, who hopes to peel off votes from disillusioned conservatives, is also in the November contest.

Read more about why Barksdale presents an unconventional challenge for Isakson here.