- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) - Democratic Rep. John Barrow and his Republican rival blamed each other in a debate Thursday for lobbing unfair attacks in a flood of negative advertising during their congressional race in eastern Georgia.

Barrow of Augusta is running for a sixth term against GOP businessman Rick Allen in Georgia’s only competitive U.S. House race. The incumbent is a Democrat whose 12th District seat was redrawn years ago to favor Republicans. Not only have the candidates spent heavily on TV ads, but their respective parties and other third-party groups have poured more than $4 million into the campaign - mostly on attack ads in the Augusta and Savannah markets.

“I can’t let my wife watch television,” Allen said, when asked about the tone of the race during their debate at Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro. “It’s hard for us to go to bed at night because I’m getting accused of raising taxes and I’ve never held public office.”

Democratic Party ads have accused Allen’s construction company of profiting from government contracts paid for by tax increases. What the ads don’t say is the projects were funded by penny sales taxes approved by voters at the local level.

Barrow said Allen is hardly innocent when it comes to negative campaigning.

“If someone’s going to complain about things being said about them, maybe they should take stock about what they’re saying,” Barrow said.

He went on to criticize Allen and Republicans for ads that have repeatedly made the claim that Barrow votes with President Barack Obama “85 percent of the time.” Obama’s not very popular in much of the district, and Barrow’s re-election hinges on his ability to win support from independent and conservative voters. Barrow rattled off a list of issues - from health care reform and environmental policies to gun control - on which he’s opposed the president.

“When my opponent tells people that I vote 85 percent of the time with Barack Obama, cherry picks the time frame and treats little issues exactly the same as big issues, he ain’t telling you the truth,” Barrow said.

Republican ads have credited the 85 percent figure to an analysis of a single year - 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency. However, Barrow said in a 2012 fundraising letter to supporters that while he often crosses party lines, “I have supported the President and the Democratic leadership 85 percent of the time.”

The candidates agreed on a few issues during their debate. Both support building the Keystone XL oil pipeline and both said they agree the U.S. military should assist in attacking the Islamic State group. Barrow said he doesn’t support using American ground troops, while Allen didn’t specify a position one way or the other.

Overall, Barrow touted his record of working with both Democrats and Republicans in Washington and called Allen “one of the most partisan candidates around.”

“John Barrow is going to say whatever it takes to get elected,” Allen said, while promising the audience he would limit himself to just eight years in Congress.

Barrow’s 12th District seat covers 19 counties and includes the cities of Augusta, Statesboro, Vidalia and Dublin.

Fundraising reports filed Wednesday showed Barrow with a big cash advantage over Allen heading into the campaign’s final stretch. Barrow reported $1.5 million in the bank compared to $118,237 in available cash for Allen. Both political parties and other third-party groups have spent more than $4.4 million on attack ads trying to influence the outcome, and are expected to keep spending heavily until the election.

The debate Thursday at Ogeechee Technical College was the second between Barrow and Allen. The two candidates plan to go head-to-head twice more before Election Day.

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