With Georgia's contentious Republican primary just eight months away, former Secretary of State Karen Handel beat her fellow Republican candidates to the airwaves on Thursday, launching the first ad of the 2014 campaign.
Handel's early ad, a radio spot designed to separate her from the crowd, builds on her attempts to portray herself as the outsider in a race dominated by current members of Congress. It hits Reps. Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and Paul Broun, though not by name, for campaigning against the 2010 health care law, even as they receive insurance subsidies under it. Implicit in the spot's focus on President Obama's signature legislative achievement is that Handel, who hasn't benefited from the law, will be better positioned than her Republican opponents to make the case against "Obamacare" in a general election campaign against likely Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn.
The ad is running primarily on Republican-friendly talk radio and country music stations in the Savannah, Atlanta and Athens markets, three of the four largest in the state -- which also just happen to be Kingston's, Gingrey's and Broun's home markets, respectively.
Left unmentioned in the ad is businessman David Perdue, another potentially viable Republican candidate. Perdue, who has never held elective office, could be a strong competitor for the "outsider" label. Perdue has promised to draw heavily from his personal wealth to fund his campaign, but Handel's team and the other Republican candidates have largely ignored him. Said Handel spokesman Dan McLagan: "I'll take him seriously when he puts $5 million of his own money in."
The early start to Handel's ad campaign is in part a response to a federal judge's recent order moving Georgia's primaries from its typical mid-July date up to May 20, giving the Senate candidates even less time to introduce themselves to voters. Handel's ad will help her build on her already superior name recognition, having run for governor in 2010 and served as Secretary of State before that. None of her opponents have run for statewide office before, and while Broun, Kingston and Gingrey are well known in their districts, they have a lot of ground to make up with voters in other parts of the state.
The spot is also a sign that Handel, who entered the race just six weeks before the end of the last financial disclosure period, has money coming in the door. McLagan said that Handel is having a "really good" third quarter and that he expects her to post strong numbers at the end of the quarter, which concludes this month. But, he cautioned, Handel will be outspent by her opponents. Gingrey has $2.6 million on hand and Kingston has $2.3 million in the bank.
Handel has been in that position before, McLagan argued, noting that Handel was outspent by all four of her opponents in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, which she won, before losing a close runoff to now-Gov. Nathan Deal.
With open races for the congressmen's three seats, another likely barn burner in Democratic Rep. John Barrow's 12th District and a still sleepy -- but potentially competitive -- gubernatorial primary, Georgia's airwaves will be crowded next year, and ad buys could be pricey. Handel's team is clearly betting that getting on air early, and cheaply, will pay off in May.