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Holcomb Considering Ga. Senate, Gubernatorial Bids

Georgia state Rep. Scott Holcomb watches as Gov. Nathan Deal delivers his State of the State address on the House Floor of the Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, in Atlanta.(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Georgia state Rep. Scott Holcomb says he is considering running for his state's open Senate seat in 2014, even as the Peach State's Democratic Party brass tries to narrow down the field to a single candidate.

"It's fair to say that I'm thinking about it, and that's largely a function of many people calling me and encouraging me to think about it," Holcomb said, adding that a race against Republican Gov. Nathan Deal is also under consideration. "My background as a military veteran and also someone who understands business and can talk with business owners and the business community, many people think that might be an advantage in a statewide race."

Though only in his second term in the legislature, Holcomb is considered a rising star in the state party and has been mentioned as a potential contender by several Democratic strategists and consultants. Many cited his appeal to Republicans and independents, which helped him to pull in 56 percent of the vote in his reelection last year, even after Republicans drew him into a much more difficult district. He has also run statewide before, losing in a Democratic primary for secretary of State in 2006. Holcomb even grabbed some national attention last year after he filed a bill mandating drug tests for lawmakers, in response to Republicans' push for testing welfare recipients.

But party leaders and consultants are meeting behind the scenes in an attempt to narrow down the field of Senate candidates and avoid a primary altogether, according to several reports and strategists familiar with the meetings. State party chairman Mike Berlon is the driving force behind them, arguing that the party has lost winnable races in the past due to bruising intra-party fights. Some Democrats are skeptical that he has the power to bring potential candidates to an agreement, while others, including Holcomb, are worried about the optics of a backroom deal. "I think in terms of us winning, it's the best process. But there is something unsettling about having what may be perceived about background conversations," Holcomb said.

The current frontrunners for the Democratic nomination to replace retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, according to strategists, are Rep. John Barrow and Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn. The two are reportedly set to meet to discuss which of them will run, but one Democratic consultant said that Nunn's allies have been putting out word that she may enter the race regardless of Barrow's intentions. Strategists warn that the younger Nunn has put out feelers on a Senate race several times before, only to ultimately pass. And with no electoral history, Nunn won't scare off primary opponents the way Barrow would.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel said in March that he expects Barrow to run for reelection, rather than mount a Senate candidacy. Running statewide would have its advantages, however: Barrow's district is contested every cycle and is actually more Republican-leaning than the state at large. "Eventually he's going to get a good opponent [for his House seat]," said one Democratic strategist. "Why not take the shot up the chain, if you're living a sort of cliff-hanger existence?"

Barrow is much more conservative than the other candidates being mentioned for the race -- including Rep. Sanford Bishop (D), former Sen. Max Cleland and former state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who ran for governor in 2010 -- and is viewed coolly by many of the party faithful. But his fundraising ability and name recognition have Democrats saying they'll grit their teeth and get behind him should he run.

The race is moving much more slowly for Democrats than for Republicans. Most Democratic strategists and consultants say no Democrat appears anywhere near an announcement, while Rep. Jack Kingston is likely to become the third declared candidate on the Republican side tomorrow. Holcomb, who is getting his MBA at the University of Georgia, in addition to working as a legislator and attorney, said he likely won't make a decision until the summer. "The good news is there is not a real rush right now" with no other candidates moving towards a bid, Holcomb said.

Democrats are encouraged about their prospects for picking up the seat due to demographic changes, with the state's Hispanic and African-American populations continuing to boom. The number of white registered voters in the state dropped from 63 percent in 2008, to 59 percent in 2012, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But strategists privately admit that it may be too soon to cash in on those changes.

Holcomb said he is taking that into consideration, noting that the advantage of running in 2014 is that a Democrat may be able to avoid a primary altogether because the demographics aren't quite there yet. But by 2018, when Democrats will have a much better shot at a possible open-seat race for governor, all bets are off.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified state Democratic chairman Mike Berlon and the number of percentage of white registered voters.

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