Georgia Congressman Faces Tough Re-Election Battle

Sanford Bishop (D-GA) VS. Mike Keown (R)

Sanford Bishop (D-GA) VS. Mike Keown (R)

With nine terms under his belt, it appeared Democrat Sanford Bishop had locked up Georgia's 2nd Congressional District. But this November, he faces his best-funded GOP challenger in years.

Mike Keown, a Baptist preacher and Georgia state legislator, iscapitalizing on conservative backlash to the policies of the Obama White House.

"When it comes to Obamacare, I think that if Republicans take the House, and I'm a part of that majority in the House, that you're gonna see a repeal bill come out of the House," Keown said.

As a member of the moderate to right-leaning Blue Dog Democrats, Bishop, an African-American, has spent most of the past two decades with strong biracial support in his Southwest Georgia district, which is 45 percent black and 51 percent white. But his support of health care reform has alienated many white voters who supported him in the past.

"There is a very strong racial polarization that I think is really symbolized by the health care issue," said Emory University Professor Merle Black, an expert in Southern Politics. "That issue split Bishop's constituency, the individuals who elected him in the past." 

Bishop has also suffered bad press for directing thousands of dollars in Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship money to family members. He later agreed to reimburse the foundation. But the controversy opened him up to attacks by his opponent.

"This wasn't even a whole lot of money," Keown said. "But it's all about a spirit of ownership instead of stewardship. And that's what I see. What's happened with Sanford Bishop is a snapshot of what's happening in Washington. And that is, 'It's ours. We own it. We can do with it what we want to.'"

But the Keown campaign is not immune to controversy. Its chief strategist, Jarrell "Jay" Walker, was among several lobbyists indicted in a federal investigation into alleged vote buying for casino gambling in Alabama.

"We were troubled by the allegations brought to our attention (Monday)," Keown's campaign manager Andrew O'Shea said in a written statement. "Jay Walker, who had done some consulting work for us, is no longer affiliated with our campaign effective immediately."

According to Professor Black, Bishop still has the advantage.

"He doesn't need very much in the way of white support," he said. "If he can get about a fifth to a fourth of white voters in the district, and has a healthy turnout among African-Americans, then he should be able to hold the district."

However, Black said Keown may benefit from like-minded Tea Party conservatives who are energized by this midterm election cycle, while Bishop's traditional supporters run the risk of complacency.

"It's less excitement," said Duke Johnson, owner of DJ's Barber and Beauty Salon in Albany, Georgia, which serves a predominantly African-American clientele. "I don't hear anybody too much just saying, 'I'm trying to go for this person or that person.'Everybody's low key now -- just trying to work, trying to save every dime they can get."

FOX News traveled to the district in an attempt to speak with Bishop. He backed out of a scheduled on-camera interview. His campaign said the congressman was feeling ill.

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.