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Greg Bluestein

Trailing badly in polls, Jim Barksdale shakes up his Senate campaign 

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U.S Senate Democratic candidate Jim Barksdale. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

U.S Senate Democratic candidate Jim Barksdale. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Trailing badly in the polls and scorned by some top Democrats, Jim Barksdale shook up his Senate campaign Friday by hiring a new manager with close ties to Bernie Sanders.

Rene Spellman, the former national director of surrogates and traveling press for Sanders, replaces Dave Hoffman, who was hired to lead Barksdale’s campaign in the spring.

Barksdale struggled to gain traction since he joined the race in March after a string of better-known Democrats refused to challenge Republican Johnny Isakson, who is seeking a third term in November. He scheduled few public events in the months after he qualified for office and did very little fundraising aside from the more than $3 million from his own fortune he pumped into his campaign.

Several high-profile Democrats publicly back his GOP opponent, including former Gov. Roy Barnes and Rep. David Scott, and others have refused to endorse him.

With some polls showing him behind Isakson by huge margins – a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday has him behind by 21 points – there is much handwringing in Democratic circles that the party has failed to capitalize on a November contest with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

With the hiring, Barksdale’s campaign takes another stab at following the lead  of Sanders, the Vermont U.S. senator whose insurgent campaign galvanized young liberal voters across the nation. He has increasingly echoed Sanders’ anti-Wall Street rhetoric on the campaign trail, and relies on many Sanders supporters to fill out his volunteer staff. Though Sanders only captured about one in four votes in Georgia’s March Democratic primary, he still remains popular with some young and more liberal voters skeptical of Hillary Clinton.

Hoffman helped engineer Barksdale’s primary victory over three other Democratic candidates, avoiding a runoff in a crowded field. He declined comment on Friday.

Before she joined Sanders’ campaign, Spellman was a youth liaison in President Barack Obama’s administration and a youth voter director in Georgia.

The Barksdale campaign made clear in a statement it would step up its efforts to attack Isakson and tie him to Trump, who is holding a more narrow lead in Georgia. 

“We will hold Sen. Isakson accountable for putting the special interests of the Wall Street and corporate donors before working people, as well as his refusal to denounce Donald Trump’s bigoted and divisive rhetoric,” campaign spokeswoman Emily Oh said in a statement.