Georgia’s Democratic Party-backed Senate candidate makes somewhat shaky debate debut

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Democrat Jim Barksdale is a candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia. Greg Bluestein/AJC
Democrat Jim Barksdale is a candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia. Greg Bluestein/AJC

Democrat Jim Barksdale is a candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia. Greg Bluestein/AJC

Jim Barksdale vowed to champion policies that would help Americans who have been left behind economically in his first televised debate since joining the race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson nearly two months ago.

The Democratic Party-backed investment manager had some awkward moments during his debut in the public spotlight, which came at the Atlanta Press Club’s Senate Democratic debate, which will air on Georgia Public Broadcasting at 6 p.m. on Sunday. He sought to hit home the message that if elected he would focus on boosting the middle class by renegotiating trade deals, raising the minimum wage and investing in infrastructure spending.

“I have been blessed with wealth and it’s my job as a steward of that wealth, a steward of everything that I’ve had, to make sure that it’s used for the common good,” he said.

Barksdale revealed he used to vote Republican but said the right’s economic policies have harmed Americans.

“The key message is that the trickle-down economics that we were sold to and that I bought into for the many years that I voted Republican has not worked, and as Cheryl (Copeland) said, it’s left too many people behind,” he said.

Barksdale stumbled, however, when he did not mention expanding Medicaid in Georgia, a common talking point for Democrats, as his two opponents did.

The political rookie has kept a low profile since entering the race in mid-March, granting his first media interview only last week.

Barksdale’s two opponents, Copeland and John Coyne, sought to frame themselves as more electable alternatives during the 25-minute debate.

“It’s time that we have something other than wealthy businessmen on the ballot,” said Copeland, who said she was the only middle class candidate in the field.

Coyne, an Alpharetta businessman, said he was the only candidate capable of defeating Isakson in November by uniting Democrats, independents and enough Republicans against the two-term incumbent. Coyne lamented the Democratic Party’s backing of Barksdale, which came after he had already put his hat in the ring.

“We need a realist and a moderate to go to Washington and defeat Johnny Isakson and get things done,” he said.

The Republican Senate debate, meanwhile, focused on Isakson’s absence.

Primary challengers Derrick Grayson and Mary Kay Bacallao addressed questions about the incumbent’s recent votes on debt ceiling and education policy legislation to an empty podium, a long-standing tradition of the debate.

“It’s really hurting us, and every day I as a math teacher have to teach things that I know aren’t the way kids learn and the kids aren’t being able to fulfill their destiny, they’re not being able to advance in math and science because of all of these state standards that have to be the same,” Bacallao said of the education bill backed by Isakson.

Grayson stood by recent remarks alleging Isakson is essentially colluding with Gov. Nathan Deal related to his Parkinson’s disease.

“The only thing that I said about Mr. Isakson’s disease is that I pray for his well-being. However, it is still unfair and it is my responsibility to let Georgians know what I know and that they consider Mr. Isakson’s health in light of his age,” Grayson said. “If Mr. Isakson retires, Georgians would have been cheated out of an opportunity to vote for someone that could carry forth a full six-year term.”

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