ray mckinneyRay McKinney taking his campaign to the highways.
The odds are long for Ray McKinney. He’s well aware of that. And for the last few weeks, the road has been long, too.
McKinney, a 1980 Effingham County High School graduate, has been walking the 12th Congressional District as part of his campaign for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah).
McKinney’s walk began in Milledgeville on Feb. 12 and it ends today in Port Wentworth, probably about 5 p.m. His trek to the Rincon city limits has taken him about 450 miles, he estimated.
“I’ve got the feet to prove it,” he said. “I didn’t know, but you can get blisters under blisters.”
McKinney, who now lives south of Savannah, is one of the few Republican challengers left in the race vying to face the two-term incumbent. John Stone, a former chief of staff and communications director for the late Rep. Charlie Norwood and former Rep. Max Burns, is also running for the Republican bid.
He acknowledged the power of the incumbency, but McKinney is willing to continue on the road. He will establish his district campaign headquarters in Rincon.
“And I’ve got to walk 450 miles to get press coverage, (so) there’s definitely an advantage to being an incumbent,” he said. “But to me, America is not about giving up. It’s about fighting for something you believe in. If we believed in the power of the incumbency, why would anybody bother running?”
McKinney says his message is resonating with the people he’s met from central Georgia to the Coastal Empire.
“How else are you going to change things?” he said. “It has to change from the bottom up. It’s not going to change from the top down. They’re the ones in power; why should they change? The perfect term limit is an election every two years, and if you’re not representing your district or your voters, by all rights, they should throw you out.”
While other GOP hopefuls have already come and gone, mostly because they didn’t think they could raise the money to beat Barrow, McKinney said he’s sticking it out. He took inspiration from how Mike Huckabee’s low-budget approach overwhelmed Mitt Romney’s well-financed operation in Iowa.
“People are looking at the issues,” he said. “They want change. You look at (Sen. Barack) Obama. They want change, but he can’t tell you what change he’s going to give. But they want change, and I want change.
“I’m willing to tell people what change I want. I want serious tax reform. I want to bring jobs back into the country. I want fiscal responsibility. I want to do something about the gas prices, and it starts with the government. That’s the biggest problem right now.”
McKinney said he has been greeted warmly throughout his stroll, especially in the eastern Candler County community of Pulaski, near the Bulloch County line.
“Everybody in Pulaski knew who I was,” he said, noting a story in that day’s Statesboro Herald alerted them to his presence. “You’ve got to get your name out. I’ve gotten my name out and all I had to do was sweat for it.”
He said his walking tour has elicited some surprises from the residents he’s met along the way and he’s been greeted warmly in his travels.
“For the most part, people are surprised that a Congressional candidate or any candidate for federal office would take the time to meet them,” McKinney said. “I get horns honking, I get thumbs up, I get lights flashing.”
His walk also is more than getting his message out — it’s also a chance to listen to their concerns of the residents of the 22-county district.
“I’m trying to connect the dots,” he said. “By the time of the election, I will have walked everywhere. When I go back to the towns, I can spend the entire day in those towns and fill in the blanks.”
There are some things in common with the far-flung district — aside from being able to “find good barbecue almost anywhere in this district,” he said.
“Everybody in this district is worried about jobs. They’re worried about the price of gas, they’re worried about the price of milk, they’re worried about feeding their families, they’re worried about losing their homes.
“People talk about immigration and they talk about national security,” McKinney said, “but it comes down to getting that Friday paycheck and how far it will go and what they can do until the next Friday paycheck.”