SAVANNAH -- When the No. 3 House Democrat visits Georgia next week to extol the government's health care overhaul, Rep. John Barrow -- a conservative Democrat who opposed the bill -- won't be there to welcome the guest to his district.
However, Barrow's opponent in the July 20 primary, who said the incumbent has betrayed the party by voting too often against its agenda, says she'll be attending the Augusta event Tuesday with campaign materials in-hand.
Barrow already is facing anger from liberal Georgia Democrats for voting against President Barack Obama's health care plan in March. The Savannah lawmaker is seeking re-election to a fourth term in southern Georgia's 12th District.
The visit by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to speak about the benefits of the health care law in Barrow's district has put the congressman in a tough spot heading into a contested primary.
"It's very awkward," Tony Center, Democratic Party chairman for Savannah and surrounding Chatham County, said Friday. "You've got a member of the leadership coming to the district and an incumbent congressman who doesn't want to be seen with him."
Still, Center and other party officials in the southern Georgia district say core Democrats, particularly blacks who make up nearly 40 percent of the district's voters, have grown increasingly unhappy with Barrow's conservative tilt.
This summer, Barrow faces a primary rematch with former state senator Regina Thomas of Savannah, who says she's the real Democrat in the race. That message didn't work for Thomas when she opposed Barrow in the 2008 primary. She received only 24 percent of the vote.
Some Democratic critics say Barrow went too far this year with his vote against the health care overhaul -- which they saw as a betrayal of a key Democratic policy and of Obama, who endorsed Barrow in the 2008 primary.
Montgomery County Democratic chairman John Brewer, in an unusual breach of primary-season neutrality, said earlier this month he's so furious with Barrow that he'll vote against him in July. If Barrow wins re-election, Brewer said, he'll actively work to recruit another Democratic opponent for the congressman in 2012.
Barrow had no comment on Clyburn's visit, said his spokeswoman, Jane Brodsky. Barrow's schedule showed him touring job-training programs and a technical school in Savannah on Tuesday.
Kristie Greco, Clyburn's spokeswoman, said health care won't be the only topic Clyburn addresses. Student loans and energy policy are also on his agenda, she said.
Greco noted that Clyburn has donated money to Barrow's past campaigns -- $4,000 since 2004. Asked if Clyburn is endorsing Barrow's re-election this year, she said, "He's supporting all our incumbents."
"He has visited districts and held events with members that voted 'no' on health care," Greco said of Clyburn. "And he believes members should represent their district."
Organizers of Clyburn's visit to Paine College in Augusta insist they didn't invite him as a political swipe at Barrow.