- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Democratic Rep. John Barrow launched a campaign ad Wednesday to assure voters he’s no lackey of President Barack Obama, while the congressman’s Republican rival rolled out a TV spot saying partisan attacks against his company are “shameful smears.”

Both candidates are fighting back after being hammered by $2 million worth of attack ads the national Democratic and Republican parties have been airing for several weeks. The barrage of negative advertising before the race enters its final month illustrates how high the stakes are in eastern Georgia’s 12th District. Barrow is seeking a sixth term, and Allen is aggressively pursuing an upset in the Nov. 4 election.

Barrow’s re-election chances depend on his ability to win over independent and conservative voters, as he did two years ago. The National Republican Congressional Committee since August has aired various TV ads in the Augusta and Savannah markets that make the same claim: that Barrow’s votes in Congress mirror Obama’s position “85 percent of the time.”

“I don’t vote 85 percent of the time with anyone,” Barrow says in his 30-second response ad, which never mentions Obama by name. Then he rattles off a short list of issues on which he’s broken ranks with fellow Democrats: voting in favor of building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, opposing the cap-and-trade policy to reduce greenhouse gases, and voting against California Rep. Nancy Pelosi for House speaker.

However, Barrow said almost the exact opposite in a 2012 fundraising letter to Democratic supporters. While noting he crosses party lines when it’s in the best interest of his constituents, Barrow wrote: “I have supported the President and the Democratic leadership 85 percent of the time.”

The NRCC attributed the 85-percent figure in its ads to the Washington publication Congressional Quarterly, which publishes an annual analysis of how members of Congress vote. In 2009, it found that Barrow’s votes matched Obama’s position 85 percent of the time. The same publication found Barrow supporting the president less often in recent years - 29.5 percent of the time in 2012 and 35 percent last year.

Asked about the contradictory statements Barrow makes in his new ad compared to his 2012 fundraising letter, spokesman Richard Carbo said the congressman’s point in both was that he puts Georgia’s interests “ahead of any party or any president.”

Meanwhile, Allen has been under attack from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in ads that criticize his construction company for accepting $184 million in government contracts to build schools, libraries and other projects.

The Democrats’ ads have said Allen won the projects through “insider deals” - an accusation that hasn’t held up to fact checks by news media organizations - and that “sales taxes were raised to pay for 16 of Allen’s contracts.” The projects singled out by Democrats were funded through penny sales taxes approved by local referendums.

Allen’s ad quotes a recent Augusta Chronicle editorial that blasts Democrats for “dishonestly smearing a respected businessman who has helped build this community.” An announcer calls the attacks against Allen an attempt to distract voters from Barrow’s record. The ad ends with the line: “John Barrow: Two-faced. Dishonest. For Obama.”

Barrow’s district covers 19 mostly rural Georgia counties and includes the cities of Augusta, Statesboro, Vidalia and Dublin. Asserting independence from the president and fellow Democrats has been critical to Barrow’s political survival in a district that Republican Mitt Romney easily carried in the 2012 presidential election.

The congressman’s race against Allen is likely to get more heated in its final month. As their new ads aired Wednesday, the campaigns also were fighting over debates. Barrow’s campaign accused Allen of backing out of an upcoming forum Saturday that both candidates agreed last week to attend. Allen spokesman Dan McLagan said, “We haven’t said no to anything.”

Hossam Fadel of the Islamic Society of Augusta, the forum’s sponsor, said he was told by a third party Tuesday night that “Mr. Allen probably wouldn’t come.” Fadel said that by Wednesday afternoon, the Allen campaign had not returned his phone and email messages.

Spokesmen for Allen and Barrow said both candidates plan to attend a candidate forum Oct. 16 in Statesboro as well as an Oct. 26 debate to be televised by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

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