Barrow plunges back into politics with Georgia secretary of state bid

John Barrow, who served five terms in Congress before losing his 2014 re-election bid for his House seat, is running as a Democrat to become Georgia’s secretary of state. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

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John Barrow, who served five terms in Congress before losing his 2014 re-election bid for his House seat, is running as a Democrat to become Georgia’s secretary of state. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Former Georgia Congressman John Barrow, who was the last white Democrat from the Deep South in Congress, will end a three-year absence from politics with a statewide Democratic bid to become secretary of state in 2018.

Barrow said in a statement Monday that he refuses to “stand on the sidelines when we face such huge challenges” and vowed to protect the right to vote, cut regulations and crack down on fraud.

“None of this has anything to do with partisan politics,” Barrow said, “and I won’t allow it if I’m elected.”

The former congressman would succeed Republican Brian Kemp, who is running for governor. The Secretary of State’s Office oversees elections and business licensing in Georgia, and it has been in Republican hands since Karen Handel won the office in 2006.

Barrow’s decision will surprise some. Some party insiders had urged the Harvard-trained attorney to challenge Attorney General Chris Carr, who had never held public office before he was appointed to the post last year. But Barrow’s choice to pursue a wide-open seat has been an open secret for several weeks.

Four Republicans are already in the race to replace Kemp, who is running for governor: state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus; state Reps. Buzz Brockway of Lawrenceville and Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek; and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. Democrat R.J. Hadley, a former Rockdale County tax commissioner, has also filed paperwork to run, but it's uncertain whether he will stand down.

Republicans are likely to paint Barrow as a creature of Washington. In a Facebook post, McKoon called Barrow a “former Nancy Pelosi lieutenant” — a reference to the Democratic House leader, even though he voted against her re-election to that top party post in 2011.

McKoon also acknowledged that Barrow’s candidacy raises the profile of the race.

“The stakes for this race just went a lot higher,” McKoon said.

Barrow was first elected to represent an east Georgia congressional district in 2004. Redrawn districts forced Barrow to move from Athens to Savannah to Augusta during his five-term tenure, and by the time of his 2014 defeat, he was the last white House Democrat in the Deep South. Along the way, Barrow carved out a profile as a fiscal conservative who often crossed his party.

Barrow's ability to hold GOP-leaning territory made him a tantalizing prospect for higher office. He was recruited to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2014 but decided instead to run again in the 12th District, losing to Republican businessman Rick Allen. He also was discussed as a possible challenger to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson last year, but he opted against it.

In his statement, Barrow said he’s frustrated that “people are working harder and harder and still finding it hard to make ends meet” and said he’d bring a new perspective to the office held by Republicans since 2007.

“Today, we have too many people in Atlanta who act like they do in Washington — who put partisan politics ahead of what’s in the best interest of Georgia,” he said. “As a county commissioner and a member of Congress, I’ve always put Georgia first, and that’s what I’ll do as our secretary of state.”