U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop faces stiff challenge from GOP’s Chris West

Credit: Screenshot via Atlanta Press Club Facebook page

Credit: Screenshot via Atlanta Press Club Facebook page

CAIRO, Ga. — In order to win another term in Congress, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop needs voters like Mary Holt.

A resident of Whigham in Grady County, Holt generally votes for Republicans. But she also is a longtime supporter of Bishop, a Democrat.

“I always vote for Sanford Bishop,” she said on the walk back to her car. “He’s my man.”

Holt works at a nursing home where Bishop once helped solve an issue. Holt has never forgotten about that and said she will support Bishop as long as he is running for office in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District.

“He’s always been available to help people when they need it,” she said.

Bishop’s tenure in this southwest Georgia seat has been marked by an ability to work across the aisle with Republicans at all levels of government as he pushes for resources to help communities heavily reliant on agriculture and government resources. He is the longest-serving member of the state’s congressional delegation and the only Georgia lawmaker to serve on the House Appropriations Committee.

But with inflation high and President Joe Biden’s popularity low, Republicans are widely expected to retake the U.S. House and the competition for control of the U.S. Senate remains a tossup.

A strong turnout of conservatives on Election Day with Gov. Brian Kemp leading the ticket could help boost support for down-ballot candidates. And that could be enough to push Bishop’s challenger, Chris West, across the finish line in this tossup race. A recent poll by the Trafalgar Group put West within 4 points of Bishop, within the poll’s margin of error.

Columbus State University professor Jacob Holt said it’s possible but will be tough for West to do. He noted that the Princeton Gerrymandering Project has estimated about 55% of voters in the district are Democrats.

“So, unless you have an extremely high turnout amongst Republicans, and you probably also would need really depressed turnout among Democrats, I say it’s doubtful it would flip,” Holt said. “Is it possible? Yes. But you’d have to have a couple of things to break right.”

West would need more voters like Stan Humphries, who recently moved to north Grady County and voted straight down the Republican ticket. Humphries said he didn’t know much about Bishop or West, so he stuck to the party line.

State Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican whose territory overlaps with parts of the 2nd District, said Georgians of all political stripes have the same concerns about the economy and inflation that is leading them toward supporting GOP candidates such as West.

“I do think he’s going to need a strong Republican turnout,” said Robertson, of Cataula. “I think also that there are many moderates who call themselves independents that are going to have to shift over to the right side of the political aisle. But I think the pain coming out of Washington is pushing people in that way.”

Republicans who control the General Assembly made reelection tougher for Bishop this year by drawing the district in a way that made it less solidly Democratic. Just over half of its voters supported Democrats in 2020, and just under half of all voters are Black.

Bishop has raised three times as much money as his opponent, and the Democratic Party has also spent money on ads and resources to help boost his profile.

The Republican Party did not do the same for West. Brandon Phillips, who is chairman of the state party’s operations in the 2nd District, has complained about the imbalance, especially as the National Republican Congressional Committee spends to help candidates in other tossup races.

“For all the National Republican money being spent in Georgia this cycle, we hate seeing our district not getting the resources to even come close to matching what the Democrats are spending to defend Bishop,” he said. “We have an excellent nominee who has worked hard going into communities Republicans don’t normally campaign in. That’s the kind of nominee you want to back up with air support.”

Backers have posted large green and yellow “farmers for West” signs alongside country roads and highways. Meanwhile, West’s closing message has focused on his outsider status; he says that makes him better positioned to meet the needs of business owners.

“We’ve got to go in a different direction,” West said to close out a recent debate at Columbus State University. “After 30 years under Sanford Bishop, I’m asking you to give me the opportunity.”

But Bishop’s closing message is the opposite; he says he has the experience and the knowledge that West cannot match.

“We’ve been able to deliver, we’ve been able to invest in our people,” the incumbent said. “I’ve been well positioned to do that, and I look forward to asking the people to compare my record with my opponent’s and extend my contract for another two years.”