Without a Republican Screwup, Does Michelle Nunn Stand a Chance?

The Democrats’ plan to win Georgia’s Senate seat might have died with Tuesday night’s GOP primary result.

National Journal
Alex Roarty
Add to Briefcase
Alex Roarty
May 20, 2014, 7:22 p.m.

Michelle Nunn’s best chance at vic­tory al­ways lay in Geor­gia’s Re­pub­lic­an primary. If con­tro­versy-court­ing Reps. Paul Broun or Phil Gin­grey won the GOP’s nom­in­a­tion for Sen­ate, of­fi­cials in both parties thought Nunn would have be­gun the gen­er­al elec­tion as a sure­fire front-run­ner.

The Peach State Demo­crat now knows it’s not go­ing to be that easy.

On Tues­day, both men un­ce­re­mo­ni­ously crashed out of the GOP primary, fall­ing well short of busi­ness­man Dav­id Per­due and Rep. Jack King­ston. The top two fin­ish­ers now face a one-on-one battle in a Ju­ly 22 run­off for the right to move on to the gen­er­al elec­tion.

But no mat­ter which Re­pub­lic­an wins, the most im­port­ant part for the gen­er­al elec­tion is over: The GOP isn’t go­ing to nom­in­ate an­oth­er Todd Akin or Christine O’Don­nell — the type of can­did­ate likely to com­mit an elec­tion-los­ing gaffe that would hand a Sen­ate seat to the Demo­crats. And that leaves Nunn, who won her own largely un­con­tested primary Tues­day, to prove that the vi­ab­il­ity of her cam­paign was nev­er de­pend­ent on Re­pub­lic­ans screw­ing up an­oth­er race.

Nunn will need to prove that the vi­ab­il­ity of her cam­paign was nev­er de­pend­ent on Re­pub­lic­ans screw­ing up an­oth­er race.

It’s pos­sible she will suc­ceed: Demo­crats con­sider her one of the party’s best re­cruits of 2014, and even Re­pub­lic­ans openly ac­know­ledge that Nunn has run an ex­cel­lent cam­paign so far. The ques­tion now is wheth­er her cent­rist vis­age and fam­ous last name — she’s the daugh­ter of pop­u­lar former Demo­crat­ic Sen. Sam Nunn — are enough to win over a largely red-state elect­or­ate in an un­deni­ably tough year for Demo­crats.

“I just think the demo­graph­ics of this state fa­vor the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee and make it an up­hill battle, but I wouldn’t say it’s a for­gone con­clu­sion,” said Eric Tan­en­blatt, an At­lanta-based Re­pub­lic­an power broker.

Few Demo­crats would ar­gue that Gin­grey and Broun wer­en’t Nunn’s ideal op­pon­ents, but they’re adam­ant she still has a shot at vic­tory in Novem­ber. She’ll be­ne­fit from a two-month peri­od when Per­due and King­ston will fight each oth­er, rather than her, un­til the run­off elec­tion. That battle, Demo­crats hope, will force the even­tu­al GOP nom­in­ee to ad­opt an even more con­ser­vat­ive agenda un­pal­at­able to a gen­er­al-elec­tion elect­or­ate.

“The real­ity is, no mat­ter who makes it past today, you’re go­ing to have a his­tor­ic two-month run­off where the top two vote-get­ters are go­ing to be run­ning fur­ther and fur­ther to the right in a very low-turnout race,” said Tim Al­borg, a Geor­gia-based Demo­crat­ic strategist.

While the run­off risk has some Re­pub­lic­ans openly en­cour­aging GOP-aligned out­side groups — like Amer­ic­an Cross­roads or the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce — to step in and start tee­ing off on Nunn now, that looks un­likely. “We’re more fo­cused on the gen­er­al elec­tion,” said a source in­side one of the out­side groups.

And for some Re­pub­lic­ans, that de­cision to stay out the race re­flects a con­fid­ence that Nunn’s chances died with Broun’s and Gin­grey’s can­did­a­cies. Why waste valu­able re­sources on a race already tilt­ing heav­ily in the GOP’s dir­ec­tion?

Demo­crats in Wash­ing­ton have con­sidered Geor­gia, along with Ken­tucky, their best op­por­tun­ity to pick up a Re­pub­lic­an-held seat in this year’s midterm elec­tion (the seat is held by re­tir­ing Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss). That’s partly a func­tion of the party’s dearth of op­tions to play of­fense this cycle.

From June through April, Nunn raised a prodi­gious $6.3 mil­lion — more than any­thing her GOP coun­ter­parts com­piled dur­ing the primary. And she’s already put the money to­ward bran­dish­ing her im­age as a cent­rist. Her first ads have nary a men­tion of Pres­id­ent Obama but they do men­tion a Bush — George H.W. Bush, with whom she worked as CEO of the Points of Light Char­ity.

The ads have done some good: An NBC News/Mar­ist poll from earli­er this month found Nunn nar­rowly trail­ing Per­due by 4 points, 45 per­cent to 41 per­cent while in a dead heat with King­ston, at 43 per­cent each.

Even if Nunn is seen as hav­ing an equal chance against Per­due, King­ston, or Han­del, she’d run a very dif­fer­ent cam­paign against each one. The play against Per­due is straight­for­ward: His mock­ery of the idea that a high-school gradu­ate could be a U.S. sen­at­or, a ma­jor is­sue in the GOP primary, opens him to ac­cus­a­tions that he’s an elit­ist out of touch with the pub­lic. King­ston, an 11-term con­gress­man, is vul­ner­able against the charge that he’s a con­sum­mate Wash­ing­ton in­sider. 

Still, there are already signs, run­off or not, that Nunn’s free run is near­ing an end. In a bat­tery of in­ter­views, she’s de­clined to say wheth­er she would have voted for Obama­care, a po­s­i­tion that’s likely to be­come un­ten­able between now and Elec­tion Day.

What We're Following See More »
REPEATS CONTROVERSIAL CLAIM
Trump: Clinton “Doesn’t Have The Stamina” to be President
4 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

At the end of the debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Donald Trump if he stands by his statement that Hillary Clinton didn't have the look of a president. Trump responded by saying Holt misquoted him, instead saying that Clinton "doesn't have the stamina." Clinton responded by saying that when Trump visits 112 countries as secretary of state, he can talk to her about stamina.

WIDELY DEBUNKED CLAIM
Trump: Clinton Camp Started Birtherism
5 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Donald Trump, when pressed by Lester Holt on why he finally admitted that President Obama was born in America, repeated his widely debunked claim that it was started by Hillary Clinton.

“AFRICAN AMERICANS” ARE “LIVING IN HELL”
Conversation Shifts to Race
5 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Hillary Clinton went point by point on how race can so often determine the treatment that people receive, mentioning recent shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte, calling for restored trust between communities and police, and demanding criminal justice reform. Trump responded by calling for law and order and touting his endorsements from police unions. He then said that “African Americans are living in hell,” saying they are just walking down the street and getting “shot ... being decimated by crime."

JUST AS CLINTON INVITES VIEWERS TO VISIT HER SITE
During Debate, Trump Site Appears to Be Down
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Just as Hillary Clinton was inviting debate viewers to visit her site for real-time fact checking, there appeared to be a problem with Donald Trump's own campaign website. For about a 15-minute period, a blank page or an error message appeared when we tried to load the Trump site.

INTERRUPTS CLINTON MULTIPLE TIMES
Trump Comes Out Swinging
5 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Donald Trump has come out in the first segment of this debate raring to go. Trump has interrupted nearly every answer being given by Hillary Clinton, talking over her time and again. Clinton is sticking to her guns, smiling while Trump speaks and then calling on people to go to her website and see the fact checking being done.

×