At the eye of Georgia’s 2014 political storm is the field of Republicans vying to replace Saxby Chambliss in the Senate while Michelle Nunn, a Democrat facing a primary most deem coronation, waits in the wings.
Shifting demographics likely equate to competitive elections statewide by 2018 (if not 2016), and eager Democrats feign cautious optimism that the Senate contest could yield earlier success, if lightning strikes the bottle twice.
For Republicans concerned with the party’s long-term standing in the Peach State, the array of next generation conservatives ready to carry the mantle should serve notice and offer optimism.
State Rep. Trey Kelley represents a district near the state’s northwest corner, literally bordering Alabama. In his early-20s, he vanquished a Democratic opponent last year so desperate to hold on that he vowed to switch parties should he be re-elected.
State Rep. Michael Caldwell represents a metro-Atlanta district, the region encompassing the bulk of Georgia’s population growth. He’s 21 and has already gone on panels for CPAC and The Blaze.
Martin Sullivan is 27 and running to represent the coastal Georgia state House district in which his family has resided for years. His campaign announcement sounded both alarm and optimism for the plight of the next generation at large.
Though he faces two primary opponents in a heavily-Republican area, Sullivan bristles with confidence.
“I’m going to win this thing,” he responds when asked about his chances.
The three men represent geographically diverse areas of the state, all of which will influence the brand of the Georgia Republican Party in coming years.
Those years are pivotal to the political future of a party whose path to dominance resulted in capturing every statewide office, both Senate seats, the lion’s share of the congressional delegation, and overpowering majorities in both chambers of its General Assembly.
The Democrats have floundered, packing fundraising numbers so dismal that $19,000 cash on hand was heralded as a sign of financial life earlier this month.
Even left-leaning onlookers acknowledge the mess, topped by the resignation of its past chairman thanks to personal scandal, is a self-inflicted roadblock along the path back to relevancy.
Yet near-absolute control can build a sense of complacency when it comes to pushing a message that can win long-term, or bringing the next generation of conservatives into the fold early enough to carry meaningful weight with their age group.
Speaking to the University of Georgia’s College Republicans in the spring of 2012, former Governor Sonny Perdue (the state’s first Republican since Reconstruction) cited a lack of young leaders with national pedigree as one a frustration with the state’s current political scene.
Kelley and Caldwell have since been elected, with Sullivan aiming to follow next year.
For a Deep South state facing rapid-fire changes, and a party surface-level disadvantaged by most of them, the broadening stable of “next generation conservatives” is something to notice, and a mantle to seize.
Reigning in government spending so as to not leave the next generation with crippling debt and small-government policies as a means to the end of economic growth and opportunity to push back on a dismal job market are surely lent more heft by doing so.