The curious silence of the party-backed Georgia Democrat running for Senate

It has been almost two weeks since a little-known Atlanta investment guru named Jim Barksdale joined the Democratic race to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. And we’ve heard virtually nothing from him since.

Barksdale’s candidacy was shrouded in secrecy from the get-go, and he refused to take questions from the media even as he walked toward the second-floor office in the Gold Dome where he officially submitted his qualifying papers.

Repeated calls to his office over the last week have gone unreturned, as have emails to his press contacts - until late Monday. At least one person who signed on to help Barksdale's campaign has left, and two Democratic insiders describe higher-than-average turbulence behind the scenes. Barksdale, meanwhile, has yet to grant a media interview.

It’s not unusual for a candidate to lie low and build the inner workings of a bid for office shortly after announcing a run. Jason Carter, then an Atlanta state senator, did exactly that after announcing his run for governor.

But Barksdale’s situation is vastly different. A newcomer to state politics who is the party establishment’s pick for the nomination, he has scant name recognition. And his late entrance in the race – the election is less than eight months away – gives him little time to build it. The clock is ticking: He also faces three other little-known Democrats vying for the party's nomination on May 24.

Some Democrats see the deep-pocketed businessman as their party’s version of Republican David Perdue: an outsider who could pump some of his own fortune into his candidacy and rail against the establishment. In his only public statement, Barksdale cast himself as an independent-minded businessman who will restore "accountability in Washington."

In a statement late Monday, the Barksdale campaign said it would soon break the silence with "regular updates."

"Jim was asked to enter this race at the 11th hour and does not have a background in politics. We have been building from scratch, setting up our infrastructure and searching for the best and the brightest in campaign management," said William Barksdale, the candidate's son, who recently returned to Atlanta from San Francisco to help the bid.

"Most importantly, we have been preparing a message that will be relatable to Georgia voters and confront the core problems we have seen in Washington," he added.

Isakson, 71, is a formidable opponent. He enjoys widespread name recognition and built a war chest of more than $5.5 million. Almost as important, he avoided any significant GOP opposition even after revealing he suffered from Parkinson's disease, which he has said won't hinder him from serving another six years in Washington.

So far, Isakson’s forces have seized the Barksdale vacuum. A Google search of the term “Jim Barksdale Senate” leads with a link to Isakson’s website – and a taunt that “Barksdale doesn’t stand a chance against our Senator.”

And Barksdale’s website? About 10th on the list.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.