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Congressional candidates Bob Barr and Barry Loudermilk had just spent several minutes blasting each other’s records in front of a large audience at a Kennesaw church when their chipper debate moderator asked whether they wanted to go another round.
Both Republicans refused, allowing for a break in the hostilities in their bare-knuckle, winner-take-all match for the Atlanta area’s 11th Congressional District seat. With seemingly few public policy differences between them, the two have clashed over everything from their political experience to Thomas Jefferson’s role in American history.
But the former legislators had enough of trading barbs last week at NorthStar Church, refusing the moderator’s offer to ask each other another blistering question.
“There is not really anything he could say that would make me want to vote for him, so I will just pass,” Loudermilk said, eliciting laughter from the audience. Then it was Barr’s turn: “No, I think the voters understand there are differences between us by what they have seen and heard.”
Barr, a former congressman from Smyrna, and Loudermilk, a former state senator from Cassville, were forced into a runoff in May when neither of them captured more than 50 percent of the vote in the six-way Republican primary. They are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who fell short in his campaign for the U.S. Senate. The winner of the July 22 runoff will head to Washington as no Democrats have qualified to get their names on the ballot.
The solidly Republican district covers all of Bartow and Cherokee counties and parts of Cobb and Fulton counties. Loudermilk came out on top in the May 20 primary, capturing 36.6 percent of the vote, compared with Barr’s 25.8 percent.
Barr has campaigned on his four terms in Congress, saying this is no time to send a “rookie” to Washington. Calling Barr a “Washington insider,” Loudermilk has presented himself as someone with a fresh perspective who could get things done in Congress.
The two have staked out many of the same positions. Both want to shrink the size of government, revamp the tax code and repeal the federal health care overhaul. But they have offered different ideas about the plight of Iraq. Barr said he would support a U.S. military strike on the Sunni extremist militants who have captured large portions of that war-torn country. Loudermilk has expressed more caution, saying the U.S. should not be engaged in Iraq if it does not pose a clear and present danger to this nation.
Like Loudermilk, Barr opposes granting amnesty to immigrants living illegally in the U.S. Loudermilk has accused Barr of supporting “open borders” when he ran for president in 2008 under the Libertarian banner, a charge Barr denies. Last week, Barr turned up the volume, raising concerns that the Obama administration is seeking to transport “illegals” to Georgia amid the surge of Central American immigrant children illegally crossing the southwest border. Federal authorities, however, have not announced any plans to do that.
Meanwhile, Barr has repeatedly gone on the offensive against Loudermilk. This month, he blasted Loudermilk for telling The Marietta Daily Journal that Thomas Jefferson was “the youngest, newest freshman in the Second Continental Congress, and so I think it’s a good idea to bring somebody new.” One problem, Barr noted, there were others at the Continental Congress at the time who were younger than Jefferson.
The two went right back at it last week in a forum sponsored by the Acworth Business Association. Pacing on the stage, Barr — a former federal prosecutor — quizzed Loudermilk about why he copyrighted an educational video that was paid for by the Georgia Department of Education. Featuring Loudermilk and his children, the film is aimed at educating people about the Constitution. Barr also asked Loudermilk about a secret $80,500 judgment the state Legislature reached in a racial discrimination case involving Loudermilk's former legislative secretary. The secretary alleged the state fired her because she is black.
“Are you willing now to come forward tonight — with a degree of transparency that you seem to hold very high when you talk about these issues — and tell the voters what you are hiding with regard to your lack of transparency on these and other issues involving abuse of taxpayer money?” Barr said.
Loudermilk said he wasn’t involved in the secretary’s firing or in her settlement. He added he has never made any money on the film and that it was copyrighted to protect its content.
“Well, Bob, you even surprise me with those accusations because there is absolutely no truth to any of those and I think you know the truth regarding those,” Loudermilk said. “The state owns the video. It is free for everyone. You can go to YouTube and see it.”
Loudermilk then accused Barr of flip-flopping on several issues — including immigration enforcement — and for endorsing Eric Holder for attorney general in 2009.
“Bob, can you explain why you penned a very glowing letter of endorsement that helped Eric Holder become the attorney general of the United States?” Loudermilk asked.
Barr pointed out that he has since called for Holder’s resignation because he “has enabled this president through his inaction and through providing legal opinions to the White House … to continue violating the law.”
“So rather than focus on the letter, why don’t we focus on the things that Eric Holder has done in office that have led me to believe that he needs to resign and for which I have called for repeatedly,” Barr said. “Maybe you would like to join me.”
Loudermilk ended on a positive note, thanking Barr for his service in Congress. The two shook hands moments later. But they were about to lock horns again in another joint appearance five days later.
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