Democrats Eye Georgia Senate Seat as Pickup From GOP

Friday, 21 Feb 2014 11:02 AM

By John Gizzi

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Of the three Senate seats being vacated by a retiring Republican this year, Saxby Chambliss' seat in Georgia is the only one thought to be vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.

Chambliss' exodus has resulted in a Republican primary with no less than six heavyweight contenders vying for the nomination. Should no candidate emerge with 50 percent of the vote plus one in the May 20 primary, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff on July 22.

In sharp contrast to the Republican sweepstakes, Georgia Democrats have already settled on one major contender for the Senate: Michelle Nunn, former community organizer, Atlanta businesswoman, and the daughter of revered former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia.

If Republicans brutally slice one another up in the primary, or if a controversial nominee emerges, the Democratic thinking goes, then Nunn will be able to pick up the pieces in the fall and pick up the seat — making her the first Georgia Democrat to win a Senate race in 18 years.

The prospect of another "Sen. Nunn, D-Ga." has attracted national and even international attention. In recent weeks, the likely Democratic hopeful's profile and picture have been in such major outlets as The Washington Post and the Financial Times.

Three U.S. House members, two wealthy businessmen, and a past statewide officeholder are vying for the Republican nomination. All are considered strong conservatives with few disagreements on anything other than who should be senator. The differences between them are largely stylistic.

Rep. Jack Kingston, for example, is a thoughtful, low-key lawmaker. He garnered publicity with his recent American Renewal Initiative, a blueprint for uniting Republicans on six key policy issues. For the last year, Kingston has consistently led in fund-raising — particularly impressive because he comes from a rural district.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, a 71-year-old physician, comes from Cobb County, which is populous and has a large financial community. One of three OB/GYNs in Congress, Gingrey created a stir two years ago when he said that then-Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, was "partly right" when he said women can avoid giving birth in cases of "legitimate rape."

But by far the most controversial of the candidates is another physician-congressman, Phil Broun. A U.S. Marine veteran, Augusta lawmaker Broun makes no bones about saying he feels climate change is a hoax and evolution is an untruth that came from "the pit of hell."

Strongly believing that the alternative to Obamacare crafted by fellow Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price — yet another physician in the state's congressional delegation — does not go far enough, Broun has offered his own measure that turns over much of the government role in healthcare to the states.

"I've said since I came to Congress that I ask one question of every piece of legislation I've had to vote on: 'Does it pass muster with the Constitution?'" Broun told Newsmax.

Paul Broun "tells it like a lot of other people don't see it," Bill Shipp, longtime political editor of the Atlanta Constitution, told Newsmax. "There are no ambiguities with him."

Now 81 and retired, Shipp said the thought of Broun as the Republican nominee "is enough to make me come out of retirement and cover him."

Two wealthy businessmen who have never held office are also running in the GOP primary: David Perdue, former CEO of Dollar General, and Eugene Chin Yu, a South Korean immigrant who made a fortune from a military refurbishment business and heads an association of South Korean entrepreneurs in the United States.

Perdue, cousin of former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, is expected to spend heavily from his own wealth. Yu, who speaks with a thick Korean accent, jokes with audiences by asking them to "forgive my South Carolina accent."

Rounding out the race is former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, who lost a heartbreakingly close runoff to present GOP Gov. Nathan Deal in 2010. Handel made nationwide news a year later when she resigned as vice president of the Susan G. Komen Foundation after the cancer cure group reversed an early decision to pull funding to Planned Parenthood.

No one is taking any bets on who will place one-two in the initial primary, not to mention who will be the eventual nominee against certain Democratic standard-bearer Michelle Nunn.

But there is one relevant historical parallel in state politics, with the parties reversed.

In 1972, Republicans settled early on Rep. Fletcher Thompson as their Senate candidate. Democrats were treated to a 14-candidate primary that included incumbent Sen. David Gambrell — who had been appointed by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter to a fill a Senate vacancy a year before — along with then-State Rep. Sam Nunn and former Gov. Ernest Vandiver.

Gambrell and Nunn placed one-two in the primary. Nunn won the runoff and defeated Thompson in November.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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