U.S. Senate candidate Jim Barksdale, right, and his two Democratic primary opponents at an Atlanta Press Club debate this spring.  BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
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U.S. Senate candidate Jim Barksdale, right, and his two Democratic primary opponents at an Atlanta Press Club debate this spring. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Georgia Senate race focuses on everything but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

U.S. Senate candidate Jim Barksdale, right, and his two Democratic primary opponents at an Atlanta Press Club debate this spring.  BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
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U.S. Senate candidate Jim Barksdale, right, and his two Democratic primary opponents at an Atlanta Press Club debate this spring. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
John Coyne, Cheryl Copeland and Jim Barksdale at an Atlanta Press Club debate. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Jim Barksdale, right, at an Atlanta Press Club debate. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Georgia voters view both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump extremely unfavorably. So it would be incredibly easy for the state’s three U.S. Senate candidates to take shots against their opponents’ respective presidential nominees.

But instead this sleepy race has focused on … policy.

Say what?

It’s pretty astonishing when you think about it — recent campaign materials from Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson, Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley have seemingly focused on everything but the ongoing presidential circus.

Buckley continues to hammer away on the national debt and what he sees as the country’s impending fiscal collapse, a focus he thinks can build him a coalition of disaffected Republicans and tea party conservatives.

Isakson’s first television ad of the season focused not on email servers or influence-seekers in Clinton’s orbit but legislation to strengthen to whistle blower protections for Peace Corps volunteers.

And Barksdale, whose fellow Democrats have been having a field day over Trump’s stream of off-color remarks, has instead focused his recent media blasts on Isakson’s attendance at Capitol Hill committee hearings and the incumbent’s stances on raising the minimum wage and Social Security.

“We are focused on making sure that Georgians are aware that the policies that Isakson represents are failed policies,” Barksdale said in an interview Monday, ticking off the Iraq war and financial regulation legislation as examples. “That’s our core message.”

To be fair, other Georgia Democrats have taken to attacking Isakson’s continued endorsement of Trump in recent days, including Rev. Raphael Warnock and, to a lesser extent, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. And a Barksdale campaign aide did not rule out Barksdale directly addressing Isakson’s endorsement of Trump at a later date.

As for Isakson, his longtime political strategist said it’s the two-term incumbent’s style to stick with policy over partisan swipes.

“Johnny Isakson has always run his own race: substantive, policy-driven, hopeful and unifying a broad coalition of Republican, Independent, Libertarian and Reagan Democrats who believe Georgia values are more important than big-government, DC interests,” said Heath Garrett.

How long does it stay like this before Election Day pressure changes the dynamic? We’ll be watching.


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