AUGUSTA, Ga. -- "Shouldn't you be at the convention?" a visitor asks Congressman John Barrow at Augusta's Paine College on Tuesday, the day the Democratic convention started in Charlotte.
"Well, some folks sort of assume that's where some folks ought to be," Barrow says, then launches into an explanation about his ongoing congressional work in his Georgia district.
It's Barrow's drive to serve, he says, that explains why he scheduled a two-day small business seminar in Augusta instead of attending the Democratic convention. It makes Barrow the only Georgia Democratic congressman to steer clear of President Obama's re-nomination confab. And it makes his answers to basic questions of partisan politics much more complicated.
He's asked how he would describe his support for President Obama.
"Well, my support for President Obama is beside the point. The most important thing is how do I represent my constituents?" Barrow answers.
Barrow's constituents reside in a district newly drawn by Republicans, designed to thwart Barrow's re-election. The new 12th congressional district goes from Milledgeville in central Georgia to Augusta and Savannah to the east. In 2008, voters in its precincts cast ballots solidly in favor of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. If Barrow is keeping his distance from what he calls 'the top of the Democratic ticket,' that explains it.
"I support President Obama when he's right on the issues. If not, I don't. It's that simple," Barrow says. When pressed about his presidential vote in November, Barrow says: "It's no secret I'm going to vote for the top of the ticket."
Barrow is running against Republican state representative Lee Anderson, whose campaign didn't respond to our interview requests until long after we left the district. Meantime, in Charlotte, Barrow's fellow Democrats say they'll do fine without him.
"He has a tough race in front of him and he feels he needs to be" in his district, said state Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), a convention delegate. "We have good representation from Georgia."
Congressman Barrow has another reason to stay in his district. The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee says it is planning to spend $900,000 in TV advertising clobbering Barrow between now and November - by which time his snub of Charlotte will likely be a distant memory.