Live from Macon, GA: My Take on the Georgia Senate Race

Here in Middle Georgia, fresh from making buttermilk peach ice cream from a fresh crop of Georgia peaches to go with my wife’s homemade pound cake, comes word that Republicans are worried about Georgia. With this article circulating from The Hill about the state of the GOP primary in Georgia, more folks have emailed asking for my thoughts. I’ve put them off to let the race take shape, but the race remains an amoeba of blah.Allow me to give you some initial info for out of state reporters. The Georgia Democratic Party is largely bankrupt, is in the midst of a scandal over its last Chairman and Executive Director leaving and now only wanting a white man for the job (seriously), and has seen much of its activity ceded to liberal groups further from the mainstream than the Georgia Democratic Party wants. This has set the party to slightly above simmer and slightly below boil on the way to a civil war. To call the party dysfunctional would imply it actually was functioning. Right now it is not. About the only thing it has going for it is a semi-united front for Michelle Nunn.That leaves the GOP to screw things up with its field.Congressman Jack Kingston is the front runner. Polls don’t show it, but Jack is the guy. The NRSC whispers behind the scenes that Jack is the guy. The Republican Establishment in Georgia has quietly taken up position behind him. The donors like him. He is the guy. In fact, Jack Kingston is one of the nicest people in Congress and one of my favorite people. But across the board, Kingston’s scorecards on fiscal issues are even worse than Saxby Chambliss’s. From the American Conservative Union rather pathetic scorecard to Club for Growth to Heritage Action for America and on, Kingston ranks worse than Chambliss and often at the bottom of House Republicans from Georgia.Georgia Republicans would not be trading up from Chambliss to Kingston. Likewise, Kingston has never really been through a highly contested Republican primary. This is a weakness against him headed into the GOP primary. When Kingston announced, I had him on my radio show in Atlanta. It was a great interview, but he was defensive about his scorecards and votes on fiscal issues. The others in the race will hit him on a host of votes.To his credit, he has been his own man in the primary and has not, like Gingrey, felt the need to constantly draw near Paul Broun in his votes. One of the compelling attributes of Jack Kingston is he is not one to be pushed into a position out of fear of losing. His positions on fiscal issues, though, will be what undermines his campaign — that and the perception and reality that he’s the guy to beat. Right now the base of the GOP wants a real outsider.Congressman Phil Gingrey polls best right now, but this has more to do with name ID. Gingrey represented a good bit of the state in a weirdly drawn congressional district after 2002. At one point, his district covered much of the northwest and middle west parts of the state in a configuration that allowed his district to be pole vaulted over from one side to the other with a separate congressional district between. As a result, the people in Columbus, LaGrange, Carrollton, Rome, and the northwestern suburbs of Atlanta know him. Before that, he represented part of Cobb County in the state legislature. With his congressional district redrawn in 2010, he gets more metro Atlanta and the rich, Republican Buckhead area in his district as well as Cobb County. His polling is based on name identification in these areas and not much else.I’ve never been a fan of Gingrey’s, viewing him for too long as an malleable opportunist. With Paul Broun in the race, he has notably shifted his voting toward Paul Broun’s voting pattern. He’s also got foot in mouth disease, having once even attacked Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity while defending Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. Once Limbaugh called him out on it, Gingrey naturally profusely apologized and claimed he was misquoted or some such. Gingrey also once stood solidly with his House Republican brethren from Georgia against the 2007 Farm Bill. Shoulder to shoulder they marched to the floor of the House of Representatives to vote against the Farm Bill (and against Jack Kingston who they all knew would vote for it). Gingrey then voted for the Farm Bill, surprising all his colleagues. Saxby Chambliss had told him if he ever wanted to run for statewide office, he’d have to vote for it. Phil buckled.His prominence in polling is his name identification. He has never run for a statewide office. I just don’t see him getting traction outside of his district once the race heats up.David Perdue could be a surprise candidate. No one knows anything about him except his last name. He could self-fund. But who he is, what he stands for, and whether or not he’ll be any good is to be seen. Most self-funders are abused by their consultants, bled dry of money, and discarded. Odds are against him for now.That leaves three candidates.My heart is with Congressman Paul Broun. He is the one guy, if he were in the Senate, who would stand shoulder to shoulder with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul. We know where he stands. We know he stands with us. We know he’ll fight the Democrats and the squishy Republicans. But no one is sure if he can win.He recently played it too clever by half in aligning with Planned Parenthood to vote against the late term abortion measure in the House of Representatives. This is some inside baseball Georgia politics at play. Georgia Right to Life, a group badly in need of replacing, hates Karen Handel. They can’t oppose Handel outright after Karen Handel losing her job at Susan G. Komen by advocating they stop funding Planned Parenthood. So GRTL had to oppose the late term abortion bill in the House and have Paul Broun stand with them. They get to then declare Broun a hero all while standing shoulder to shoulder with Planned Parenthood on the proposition that killing kids is a-okay. It’s a political mess that makes Paul Broun look vastly more opportunistic than he is and also able to be cajoled into some really bizarre positions.Nonetheless, no one doubts that Paul Broun is a true blue conservative constitutionalist. The question remains though is if he is a Todd Aiken. I interviewed him on my radio show when he first announced and pressed him on some of his more inflammatory remarks. To his credit, he steered back to the big issue — spending. But, as I kept reiterating to him at the time, the press will force him to answer and will try to draw a scandal out of his words. He’s going to need some time on the campaign trail confronting these issues head on. It’s doubtful, though, that these issues will come up in a Republican Primary.One wildcard is that a lot of well to do “Buckhead Republicans” are perfectly happy voting Democrat if it helps them. If they perceive Paul Broun as too extreme, they won’t think twice about supporting Michelle Nunn.If my heart is with Paul Broun, my head is with Karen Handel.Of all the candidates in the race, she is the only one to have won a statewide race — Secretary of State. She made it to the gubernatorial primary runoff in 2010 losing to Nathan Deal. Issues that once haunted her, particularly on the social conservative front, went away after Susan G. Komen fired her she resigned from Susan G. Komen for leading the fight against Planned Parenthood. Her book not only documented that, but also how it was Karl Rove’s advice that led to her firing. Talk about anti-establishment street-cred.Handel is going to have to answer two questions. First, does she have the staying power? As The Hill notes, her fundraising was not stellar, though she has a statewide network. Second, is she really able to connect with the conservative grassroots? There are a number who are still convinced she’s a poseur who, when elected, will stand with leadership against Cruz, Paul, Lee, etc. (they don’t know the Karen I know). If she can give people solid answers on both, Karen Handel could turn into the front runner. She has two attributes none of the others in the race have: she’s been elected statewide and she has never served in Congress.The last candidate is, for now, “other.” There is a band of long time Republican gurus and donors in the state unhappy with the field. They want a more moderate, wealthy Republican without the baggage that might come with the Perdue name. They are looking for someone new and, in the meantime, bad mouthing the current crop to anyone who will listen. These men — and they’re all pretty much men — were for a long time the care takers of the Republican Party when the Republican Party could be crammed into one bottom floor private dining room at Bones, the legendary steakhouse in Atlanta. The party has grown up and matured, but like a mother whose son has fallen in love, these guys can’t let go of their baby. Like Jane Fonda in “Monster-in-Law” they’ll do their best to sabotage the party if the party doesn’t listen to them. And they’ll do so thinking that’s best for the party.They are actively searching for someone new to enter the race. That person will, you can be assured, suck tremendously.Whoever the nominee is will face Michelle Nunn, the great white hope of the Georgia Democratic Party. A unified front — the Democrats don’t even have a gubernatorial candidate — and a bankrupt party will throw its full weight behind her family name with a helping hand of Barack Obama’s organizational skills. Her early reviews have captured the imagination of the geriatric press corps (those still with a pulse) who swooned over her father in his day as well as the younger, liberal reporter cubs on the scene. If the political press could vote for a candidate, Michelle Nunn would be it. And that may be her greatest weakness — a false sense of security and superiority at the hand of a fawning press corps. She is a novice candidate, despite claims to the contrary. Polling showing her doing well misses that her last name would poll well against Jesus all across Georgia; at least till they realize it’s not really Sam who is running.As for me, this race does not concern me and it does not excite me. I hope one of the Republicans will be bold and lead. Right now it is early and the race is rather blah.



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