BALL GROUND, Ga. – The hour was late and the house guests, many clad in hula skirts, were restless at a gathering of local Republican activists. Candidates from school board to governor stepped to the microphone, briefly dropped their names and exited stage left.
"I'll tell you, it's great to be in Hawaii in the middle of Cherokee County!" shouted Rep. Bob Barr, the microphone cracking, as he roamed the porch like a talk show host, delivering a speech twice as loud and five times as long as anybody else's.
For the first few seconds, John Linder -- the quieter congressman facing Barr in Tuesday's GOP primary -- listened with arms crossed. Then, he made a visible exit.
"It struck me this was a time to be polite and not make a speech," Linder said afterward.
Who says these two politicians agree on everything?
Liberal voters in the 7th District, which arches through Atlanta's northern suburbs, don't have a dog in this race. With only token opposition awaiting them in November, only one of these veteran lawmakers will return to Congress next year.
The candidates blame this game of political musical chairs on Democratic state lawmakers who redrew the congressional map, packing the most Republican voters into few districts to maximize their party's power.
But Barr and Linder are proving that, despite a comparative voting record, they're far from similar.
"People like to see their representative; it gives them a sense of pride," said Barr, the mustached former Clinton impeachment manager whose frequent TV appearances provide a national stage. "I don't think voters particularly like somebody who relishes the role of fading into the background."
Linder doesn't put it quite that way, but nor does he shy away from the stereotype that he is a low-key, behind-the-scenes workhorse -- a "backbencher," as the more fiery and more noticed Barr likes to say.
"Us backbenchers wrote the Contract With America, raised $100 million for the party, sat at the leadership table and decided where Bob's committee assignments would be," said Linder, a member of the powerful but largely anonymous Rules Committee and former GOP fund-raising chief.
Linder compares himself to Paul Coverdell, the quiet but effective Georgia senator who died two years ago after quickly ascending to the chamber's No. 4 post. Barr's style more resembles Newt Gingrich, the eloquent and flamboyant former speaker, also popular in these parts.
Of course, voters here don't really need examples. Although Barr is better known nationally, both have near universal name recognition in the district. With some polls calling the race a dead heat, the last-ditch challenge will be turning out supporters, not winning them.
Well aware of this, Barr informed his campaign workers last week that the office will stay open around the clock through election day. Beginning Friday, about 500 volunteers spread among the district's five counties, determined to hang Barr tags on 200,000 door knobs.
Arriving in the campaign RV, where the driver gives grade school volunteers lessons on the Constitution during their iced tea breaks, Barr spent Saturday afternoon knocking on doors in an upscale neighborhood.
"I feel like I'm Ed McMahon here," he said, handing a flyer to a resident, even giving a sticker to a boy for his bike.
Then, it was on to Dixie Motor Speedway to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, stressing the "under God" part that a California appeals court recently struck down, much to Barr's disgust.
Linder's campaign office isn't keeping the same hours -- Linder says he's partial to sleep -- but he insists a sizable grass roots following is working the district for him too.
On Saturday, he recorded a phone message sent to homes across the district alleging Barr is trying to use negative tactics -- including a flyer arguing Linder supports the gay agenda -- to suppress turnout. Barr's wife, Jeri, had recorded an earlier message swiping at her husband's opponent.
"They've been insulting, belittling and negative," Linder says of Barr's ads, one of which acknowledges the bulldog image that many associate with Barr but compares Linder to a whimpering poodle.
Linder has an ad pointing out that Barr and Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a much-maligned liberal Democrat, both complained to President Bush about the treatment of military prisoners. Barr predicts the effort to draw a link between the two polar opposites will backfire.
Although nastiness is hardly anything new for political ads, some campaign events in recent weeks have digressed into the cartoonish.
A man in a Yosemite Sam costume has been following Barr around. The goal was to rehash an incident earlier this month when an antique gun discharged at a Barr supporter's house as it was being handed to the congressman, an outspoken gun rights activist. At a rally, Barr's son got into a shoving match with the costumed heckler.
Linder also orchestrated a sting operation in which his aides caught Barr's supporters on tape stealing campaign yard signs. Barr said the charge was petty and shows his opponent has misplaced priorities.
"Bob Barr has one really close similarity to Bill Clinton," Linder said. "He never accepts responsibility for the actions of him or his campaign."
But Rebecca Moore, a Barr volunteer, said -- polarizing or not -- the Republican Party can't afford to lose one of its highest-profile congressmen.
"Normally I would vote for Linder," said Moore as she handed out Barr flyers in Cherokee County. "But many people can't even tell you what he looks like. Congressman Barr is the one in the forefront."