John Lewis keeps Jim Barksdale at arm's length

Democrat Jim Barksdale has escalated his attacks against opponent Johnny Isakson in recent weeks, unveiling a new ad targeting the Republican on trade deals and a website tracking his missed committee hearings over the years.

But Barksdale hasn't been getting much help from Georgia's longest-serving Democrat in Congress, a man who'd be his colleague should the political newcomer defeat Isakson in November.

Atlanta's John Lewis, a giant of Georgia's Democratic Party, has stayed out of the Senate race even as he's traveled nationally to boost Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. And the longtime lawmaker on Wednesday says he has no plans to endorse in Georgia's Senate race in the near future.

“I have my own race and I have opposition," Lewis said. "I’m concerned about my race in Georgia."

Lewis' 5th congressional district is rated "solid" Democrat by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Lewis -- who's been a little busy lately making headlines for helping open a new Smithsonian African American history museum, leading a sit-in on the House floor and crowd surfing on national television -- is the latest Democrat to snub Barksdale, who's looking to build momentum as a Bernie Sanders-esque figure willing to tackle the political establishment on issues like trade and campaign finance.

Barksdale has received support from two of the four Democrats in Georgia's congressional delegation: Hank Johnson, a liberal from Lithonia, and Sanford Bishop, a centrist hailing from Albany.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Bishop's endorsement started out on a somewhat tepid note.

"Our nominee," the Albany Democrat said when asked about who he would support in the race.

He then said Barksdale was "a very nice guy" and "a great candidate" before pivoting to his own reelection bid, which is also in a district the Cook Political Report labeled "solid" Democrat. "I'm concerned about my race. I've got a contested election and I'm focused on that."

Barksdale, for his part, has shrugged at any news of Democrats staying away, using it as an opportunity to dig in on the outsider moniker as he continues to introduce himself to voters.

"It has been humbling to receive the support of Georgians that are ready to have an outsider that will will make sure government works for the people, not big corporations and the wealthy," Barksdale said in a statement. "I enjoyed attending the Father's Day Worship Service with Congressman Bishop at his home church in Albany and I am honored to have his support. I have great respect for Congressman Lewis and his courageous work standing up for civil and human rights."

Barksdale's divisiveness among elected officials in his own party comes in contrast to Isakson, whose 11 GOP colleagues have all signed on as members of his reelection leadership committee.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...