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Jewish World Review June 20, 2002 / 10 Tamuz, 5762

Matt Towery

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The inside story re the political future of controversial GOPer Bob Barr | Here's the inside story from outside the Beltway concerning the political future of controversial Republican Congressman Bob Barr, R-Ga.

The Democrat-controlled Georgia legislature destroyed Barr's current district during last year's reapportionment. The result left the controversial Barr with a challenging district that, based on prior elections, would appear to favor a Democrat.

Barr followed the precedent set by onetime colleague and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and announced his intention to move to a new location and run for re-election in a "new" congressional district. There was just one problem -- another Republican already represented a substantial portion of the district and was also intent on returning to Congress.

And thus the stage was set for a good old-fashioned Republican bloodbath between the seemingly overly aggressive and brash Bob Barr and the apparently quiet and aloof Rep. John Linder, R-Ga. While most of America knows Barr from his days as chief antagonist to Bill Clinton, Linder's story is not so well-known.

John Linder, a onetime state representative who in 1992 was elected to Congress on a platform that railed against the political establishment, rose quickly to a position of power when his close friend Gingrich became speaker of the House. Linder soon found himself a prominent member of the powerful House Rules Committee as well as the head of his party's 1998 congressional campaign effort.

It was Barr and others whose insistence that the Clinton impeachment be a centerpiece of the '98 GOP campaign that led to the ill-fated last-minute commercials credited with creating a huge Democratic backlash and voter turnout. And it was Linder who captained the national congressional election failure that, in part, led to Gingrich's departure. Now, four years later, the results of 1998 have led to this showdown.

For his part, Linder, whose silk ties and matching handkerchief are resplendent as he glides across a room, seems to argue to supporters that the district is his almost as a birthright (despite the fact that much of Linder's current district went to another Republican incumbent after reapportionment).

Linder is clearly a skilled legislator who spent decades working to help establish some semblance of a GOP presence in Georgia, which historically has been the most Democratic state in the nation. But for all of his skill, most insiders view his imperial style as being rivaled only by the likes of Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif, the notoriously haughty chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

As for Barr, his critics, including Linder, are quick to paint him as an opportunist who will use any vehicle possible to gain attention and support. Most recently, Barr added former President Clinton and publisher Larry Flynt to a host of defendants in a defamation of character lawsuit.

The race is boiling down to more of a battle of socio-economic self-images than of issues. Much of the so-called "silk stocking party establishment" is supporting Linder, although some of the biggest GOP names from the past are not a part of that support. And while Barr seems comfortable campaigning door-to-door, Linder often seems to barely tolerate spending time in conversation with captains of industry, much less the rank and file.

Meanwhile, Barr is sporting his "old-time country red suspenders," even as he continues to deliver speeches in a distinctively un-Southern accent.

Although Barr's high national name identification would seem to make him the favorite to win in a district filled with conservatives who presumably love his style, the lawsuit antic has caused more than a few pundits to question Barr's true motivation. Some believe Barr's behavior is more the act of a man who wants to set himself up for a television talk-show career than of one intent on the business of Congress.

While President Bush's top supporters in Georgia appear to be helping Linder, state GOP Chair Ralph Reed is being accused of helping Barr. And both men will probably have to do battle without the assistance of their former colleague Gingrich.

While Gingrich might attempt to suggest otherwise, those closest to him know that Barr and Gingrich never enjoyed a comfortable relationship. And Linder, who for years was very close to the former speaker, had a falling-out with the man who gave him his power after the 1998 election.

With just two months to go before the primary, Barr has reportedly raised more money than Linder, but Linder claims his polling shows him with a substantial lead.

The two candidates have now started to engage in the typical backbiting that comes with a nationally prominent race. As one top Republican put it, "I can certainly understand why the White House left this off the list of primaries in which to get involved. This one may revive the whole term-limit movement."

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate