July 23rd, 2013
12:39 PM ET
8 years ago

Will Nunn's entrance into Senate race put Georgia in play?

(CNN) - Take a famous name, a state with changing demographics and a GOP-controlled seat that Republicans can't lose next year if they want to reclaim control of the U.S. Senate.

Those ingredients add up to the likelihood of a high-stakes, fiercely contested and expensive race for an open seat in Georgia.

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Democrat Michelle Nunn formally announced her candidacy Tuesday, telling supporters in an email that, "I am filing papers to launch a campaign for the U.S. Senate."

Her entrance into the race could make the Georgia contest one of the crucial races in the 2014 battle for control of the Senate.

Nunn, the chief executive of the volunteer organization Points of Light, is the daughter of Sam Nunn, who represented Georgia for 24 years in the Senate and was known as a moderate Democrat with strong foreign policy and national security credentials.

While Georgia's Latino and black populations – traditional Democratic blocs - are increasing, it's still a red state. It remained comfortably in the GOP camp in last year's presidential election and the party currently controls all of its statewide offices.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that Nunn highlighted her work with former Republican president George H.W. Bush. And in her statement she touted her father's bipartisan efforts in the Senate, saying, "My father was an independent-minded statesman who accomplished an enormous amount by working with others to solve problems and keep our country safe. He's someone I continue to learn from every day."

Although dropping her father's famous name will open some doors, Nunn is a first-time politician, unproven on the campaign trail. But after moderate Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow announced in May that he wouldn't launch a Senate bid, attention turned to Nunn.

She may not have the Democratic field to herself. Atlanta physician Branko Radulovacki has already announced and former state Sen. Steen Miles is weighing a candidacy. While Nunn has the famous family name, it's a centrist brand and it may turn off some influential liberals in the state.

A Democratic primary most likely won't hold a candle to what could end up being a bitter primary battle on the Republican side to succeed Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who announced earlier this year that he wouldn't run for a third term in the Senate in 2014. Among the major Republican candidates running in a crowded field are congressmen Paul Broun, Phil Gringrey and Jack Kingston, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

National Democrats are banking on a contentious GOP primary that they think will produce a Republican nominee too conservative for Georgia voters in the November 2014 general election.

"While the Republican primary has turned into a right-wing circus likely to produce another Todd Akin, Michelle Nunn brings to this race the experience of a CEO, a career devoted to service, and deep working relationships with the Bush family and many Republicans in Georgia going back generations," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter told CNN. "Michelle Nunn's strong candidacy and a crazy right wing primary, combined with the state's changing demographics, make Democrats extremely confident."

National Republicans see Democratic hopes of winning back the Georgia seat as a pipe dream.

"Hubris, but hubris that we welcome. Every dollar Democrats choose to spend losing a flight of fancy in Georgia represents a dollar Democrats choose not to use defending Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Mark Begich in Alaska," countered Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Each dollar diverted to Michelle Nunn is a dollar not to spent defending open seats in Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa, or Michigan."

Next year, the Democrats will try to maintain their majority in the Senate, where they currently hold a 54-46 edge (including two independents who caucus with the party) over the GOP. They hope to expand that to 55-45 following October's special Senate election in New Jersey, which they are favored to win.

But they most likely will be defending 21 of 35 seats up for grabs in November 2014.

Republicans are optimistic about capturing seats in three states that vote red in presidential elections where Democratic incumbents are retiring: Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

If the GOP captures those three states, it only needs three more seats to reach the magic number of 51.

Republican eyes are focused on four Democrats facing tough battles next year: Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, and Mark Begich in Alaska.

Take three of those four races and the Republicans will do what they couldn't do in 2010 and 2012: win back the majority. Democrats are also defending retirements in Iowa, where Sen. Tom Harkin is not running for a sixth term, and Michigan, where Sen. Carl Levin is not bidding for a seventh term. As of now, both of those seats appear to be safer for the Democrats.

Democrats hope to put Kentucky in play, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's running for a sixth term, is facing a challenge from Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, and is also facing a possible primary challenge from a tea party-supported candidate.

Of the two Republican retirements, Sen. Mike Johanns' seat in Nebraska seems safe. Which brings us back to Georgia.

Non-partisan political handicappers say a divisive GOP primary could be a gift to the Democrats.

"The crowded Republican field may be Nunn's biggest asset at the moment. It is a crowded field that almost guarantees a runoff," Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the non-partisan Cook Political Report, told CNN. "The presence of candidates like Broun and Gingrey means that the primary battle will be fought pretty far to the right. That said, Nunn will have to prove herself as a candidate. The Republican primary gives her the luxury of time to do that."

Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, agreed.

"Michelle Nunn should give Democrats a credible candidate in case Republicans implode in their primary," Gonzales said. "There are still a lot of unknowns in the race. We don't know who the Republican nominee will be. We don't know what the national political environment will be like. And we don't know how Nunn will perform as a first time candidate. Georgia still isn't one of the top races in the country, but it could develop into a Democratic opportunity."

Filed under: 2014 • Georgia • Michelle Nunn
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Phil in KC

    I can't believe the number of posts referring to Nunn as a liberal. Did you not read the article? This woman is a Blue Dog. I'm not even sure I'd call her a moderate. She's just less conservative than all the Republicans running. As "Data Driven" has noted, though, better a Blue Dog than one of the ultra-conservatives the Republicans will nominate.

    July 23, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  2. ally buster

    We are going to KEEP the senate and TAKE BACK the house of representatives!

    July 23, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  3. ShawnDH

    The ongoing GOP War on Women has ruined their chances in 2014.

    July 23, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    "move to a conservative area because it is "nicer,""

    The entire southeast has economic mobility akin to a third world nation, while the northeast and northern mid-west and west all have economic mobility that's orders of magnitude better. The failure of Detroit due to the recession, decades of off-shoring and outsourcing and decades of advances in the mechanization of labor that made actual human employees unnecessary/obsolete...all of that has nothing to do with your partisan nonsense. The reality on the ground is that southern red states, which receive more federal aid than they pay in as taxes, are all in the crapper...ENTIRE STATES...performing terribly on almost every economic measure, health measures, education measures, etc. Guess what? States can't declare bankruptcy or we'd be watching the entire southeast form a line outside the nearest federal district courts. Not only are many of them actually bankrupt because they refuse to pay their bills by raising taxes, but they'd immediately attempt to abuse it as a means of destroying public employee unions and their pensions and health care funds.

    July 23, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. TrueIndependent

    Where does she stand? If she believes in attacking religious rights and killing babies like the Democratic leaders then she doesn't stand a chance!

    July 23, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. TrueIndependent

    Just remember Georgia.......a vote for Nunn is another vote for Harry Reid!! Enough said..........Say NO to Nunn!

    July 23, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  7. ShawnDH

    onehappyguy whined: "Generally, liberals destroy one area (see Detroit, LA, Cleveland, Oakland, etc.) then they move to a conservative area because it is "nicer," but vote the same way they did in the previous area. It is a vicious cycle."

    Generally, liberal parts of the US are far healthier, better educated with higher standards of living and longer life expectancies than conservative parts. Why do you think, say, Massachusetts is so much better off in every way than Alabama? Conservative parts of the US are backwards, uneducated dumps. Nice try, tough. We'll stay liberal and you can stay in the Dark Ages.

    July 23, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  8. blakenaustin

    For the good of the American people let's hope the GOP retakes control of the Senate. Obama, the Democrats in the Senate, and the far left media are rapidly destroying our nation.

    July 23, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  9. Karen

    Don't see it happening... The current Senate and the their immigration mess will be the demise of the democrats!

    July 23, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  10. TrueIndependent

    SLY.......Put down the Kool-Aid! Obama has droned so many people but yet you ignore it. He has spied on the innocent, targeted conservative organizations, messed up medical so bad he is delaying implementation, spoke ignorantly while the country is at risk of more racial hatred, lied to the people about the Benghazi attacks to ensure reelection and you IGNORE IT ALL while yelling at the GOP. You are part of the problem, stop drinking the party Kool-Aid and open your eyes. Until we become an independent nation, both sides will continue to program the weak minded such as yourself. I stood up to Bush and am standing up to Obama as well!!

    July 23, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  11. sonny chapman

    She's got a shot. She'll get the Minority Vote. She could get the agriculture vote, those that want an Immigration Bill so that they can get their fruits & veggies picked. There are some "Jimmy Carter" Whites in Ga. & maybe even a few Non-Kool Ade drinkers too.

    July 23, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  12. panama mike

    Leaving the context of the article and going right to the critism shows fear. Come on repubs--Buck up.

    July 23, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  13. db

    i hope not! Look how well the senate has done know...NOTHING!!!!

    July 23, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  14. us_1776

    Go Michelle Nunn !!

    We're with you.


    July 23, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  15. Yon

    The Devil lost when he went down to Georgia, so I don't think so.

    July 23, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  16. Erlo

    We can only hope that th GOP cannot take the senate, and that they lose the house. Otherwise we are in for some trouble when the rich/poor gap increases exponentially.

    July 23, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  17. Rudy NYC

    coyoteliberty wrote:

    What's her motto? "Turkeyneck for the US Senate?":
    That's not nice. But, I'd invite her to go out bowling before I'd invite Jan Brewer.

    July 23, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  18. abdul

    the reason the south leads the country in federal payout is because of social security-no body leaves florida to retire to Michigan,new York or Massachusetts-

    also-notice how every liberal media outlet was advocating the death penalty for the boston bomber-yet they all live in states with little or no death penalty-kind of like the laws were put in place for the rest of us-until a liberal area has a problem-then we need the death penalty

    July 23, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. abdul

    the racist democrats ran the state of Georgia until 1994

    the voting rights act of 1965 had to have republican support to overcome the southern democrats

    July 23, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  20. HenryMiller

    2014 is going to be a lousy year for Democrats, and not just in Georgia. All the GOP has to do is run ads with variations on the theme of "See what the Democrats did to Detroit? Do you want to take the chance of that happening here?"

    July 23, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  21. maximusgary

    If Obama had a city it would look like Detroit! Obama is trying to ruin this great country with his socialist agenda. The Three Stooges (Obama, Pelosi, and Reid) have created an out of control spending problem and have weakened this great country. The weakest recover on record and now they want to legalize 11 million illegals to compete with legal Americans for scarce jobs?. The Three Stooges and their Democrat minions need to go!

    July 23, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  22. ShawnDH

    Karen whined: "Don't see it happening... The current Senate and the their immigration mess will be the demise of the democrats!"

    Ummm, what are you talking about? Americans overwhelmingly support the immigration reform passed by the Senate, which the House GOP dropped, creating the GOP failure and mess for all Americans to see. You people are masters of creating a backwards reality. It's incredible.

    July 23, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  23. Georgia Coyote

    No they can't win. Its a real republican state, even the democrats are republican here. Her daddy was elected when the state was southern democrat. But that was a long long time ago. –

    July 23, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
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