Spring is when hibernating beasts stumble out of the dark grottoes that have sheltered them, groggily scan the horizon and wonder — between yawns — whether the time is right to reclaim their place in the food chain.
And so we come to Georgia Democrats.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, spent much of last week in downtown Atlanta discussing with supporters and check-writers whether he should chase something that no Georgia Democrat has caught since 1996 — a seat in the U.S. Senate.
The private, invitation-only meetings were held in the offices of two prestigious law firms. Arnall Golden Gregory sponsored the first session, attended by 30 people, by one count. A far larger crowd descended the next day on Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles, we’re told.
Barrow’s pollster attended the sessions, as did his chief fundraiser, Scott Gale. Barrow’s survivability in his 12th District was examined. So, too, was his competitiveness against current and future Republicans in the race for the Senate.
Barrow is a conservative by Democratic standards and has become famous as the last white Democrat in the U.S. House from the Deep South. TV ads boasting of his gun ownership may have helped him survive — again — Republican efforts to oust him. He declined to support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker in January.
At the first Atlanta meeting, one attendee asked Barrow whether he would modify his positions in a U.S. Senate race. “Not if I want to win,” Barrow is reported to have replied.
Barrow, 57, is one of two Georgians being pressed by Washington forces to spearhead a Democratic revival in this state by reclaiming the seat once held by Sam Nunn.
The other is Michelle Nunn, Sam’s daughter. Michelle Nunn isn’t as far along in her exploration of the race, we understand. She has much in common with Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democrat who will now face former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in a coastal congressional race that will end May 2.
Both women are political novices, with experience in both the business and nonprofit sectors. Both have relatives who poll well in their respective states. And now that he’s retired, Sam Nunn — when he is not warning of nuclear terrorism — can be just as funny as Stephen Colbert.
But Democrats in Washington clearly would prefer Barrow, a tested candidate with a reputation for disciplined fundraising.
“I think he’s seriously considering it. I think he understands that a whole lot of things would have to come together for him to do it,” said Tom Bordeaux, a former state lawmaker and Savannah attorney whose friendship with Barrow stretches back 40 years to the University of Georgia.
Bordeaux likes to think of Barrow as a Republican creation who could come back to haunt the GOP. Three times Republicans have tried to draw Barrow out of his southeast Georgia district.
“The Republicans meant it for evil, to put Barrow in three different districts,” Bordeaux said. “And guess what? He’s represented more of Georgia than anybody else but the dang governor. They put him in Savannah, they put him in Athens, and they’ve put him in Augusta now. And he’s got connections in all of those areas.”
Democratic chances will depend in part on whom Republicans nominate — and how far the GOP contest is pushed to the right by the likes of U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens.
“Everything being timing in politics, the Democrats’ chances are enhanced based on who the Republicans nominate. And the Republicans would agree with this,” said Steve Anthony, who teaches political science at Georgia State University. He dropped in on one of Barrow’s sessions last week.
“When Jack Kingston (a Republican congressman from Savannah) is viewed as the most moderate candidate, then you can see how the GOP has become marginalized,” Anthony said.
Other factors include Georgia’s changing demographics. Democrats know the state is tipping their way, but 2014 is slightly ahead of the expectations of many.
That said, Georgia may be one of only two pick-up opportunities for Senate Democrats next year — the other being the Kentucky seat occupied by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Millions of national Democratic dollars will be available, and this is the age of super PACs.
Georgia Democrats will be placed in charge of one particular worry: It would be near useless to invest in next year’s Senate race and leave the nomination for governor to just anyone. A joker on the ballot would be self-defeating.
“We absolutely need a strong candidate for governor,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon, who intends to work on that — “once a decision is made, whether it’s John or somebody else who decides to run for Senate.”
It’s unlikely that Democrats will have a Senate candidate by May 19, when President Barack Obama comes to Atlanta for a commencement speech at Morehouse College — and to raise money for next year’s Senate races.
“Everybody would like to have somebody in place by the first of June,” Berlon said. “Speed isn’t the really important thing here. What’s important is getting it right.”