Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow speaks to Young Democrats of Emory on Tuesday night, explaining that Democrats must choose between “purity versus pragmatism.”/Ayushi Agarwal, Photo Editor

In a lecture to student group Young Democrats of Emory, former U.S. Representative John Barrow argued that, in the upcoming presidential election, Democrats must choose between a candidate who will advance their ideals or a candidate who has the highest chance of defeating President Donald J. Trump.

“I think that’s the number one issue right now that we have to decide, purity versus pragmatism,” Barrow said. “The stakes are just that high.”

The March 20 event, which garnered a crowd of about 20 students in Harland Cinema, included discussions on the 2020 presidential election, partisan gerrymandering and money in politics.  

Barrow ran for Georgia Secretary of State in the 2018 midterm election where neither he nor his opponent, then-Georgia House Rep. Brad Raffensperger, received over 50 percent of the vote. This triggered a Dec. 4 runoff election in which Raffensperger won by 57,000 votes, or about 4 percentage points.

Barrow spoke about the electoral system and the competitiveness between candidates in the  election. He noted that, in the United States’ current electoral system, only a few battleground states determine the outcome of the presidential election.  

“Winning does matter … but in our winner-take-all system, the rules governing our legislature are unbelievably partisan,” Barrow said. “The winner-take-all elections that dominate our states [creates] an incredible amount of intensity among a small number of voters.”

Reflecting on changes in the political climate during his 10-year tenure in Congress, Barrow said that partisan gerrymandering and the influence of money in politics have become two of the most pressing issues facing the U.S.

Barrow noted that gerrymandering produces ideologically extreme candidates and few moderates. He said that an increasing partisan divide drives both parties to redraw electoral maps to their advantage.

“The Democrats in Illinois say that if we don’t gerrymander … the Republicans are going to gerrymander … us in Ohio, [which] is the same logic as the nuclear arms race,” Barrow said.

Barrow commented that the rise of campaign money in elections has become a major factor in determining a candidate’s electoral success. This trend has reduced the accountability of elected officials, according to Barrow.

“When I was first elected, it was a $1.6 million race. My last race, $15 million was spent,” Barrow said. “That’s what has changed over the past 10 years, that money that was kept out for a very short while has just flooded again.”  

Young Democrats of Emory President Brett Kleiman (20C) said he was pleased with the event’s speaker.

“I thought it went really well, there are not many times Emory students get to hear from someone that has been in politics as long as John Barrow,” Kleiman said.  

Alex Chanen (21C), political director for Young Democrats, said he was not discouraged by the low turnout.

“It’s a Tuesday night, we’d always love to more people to come but we understand,” Chanen said. “The people here are always really engaged in the event and that’s all we can ask for.”