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. Data Driven

    While a nonPresidential election year hurts Nunn, a "tea party" primary on the other side helps her. If Georgia Republicans put up a crazy person after the GOP primary, Nunn might well win. See Nevada and Delaware for historical examples.

    Blue Dog is better than nothing. I guess.

    July 23, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    Any increase in Dem population, in Congress, will be a HUGE negative for America, and could indeed spell the end of America, as a free country.

    The entire Democratic Party has become subversive to America, in their quest for total power.

    July 23, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  3. just sayin

    holy mackeral!! talk about a clueless looking liberal!! running just because of her name. what are her qualifications? She knows how to spend money and believes in killing babies?

    July 23, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  4. The GOP need to pack up and leave

    Let's hope a democrat wins. The GOP have ruined Georgia.

    July 23, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  5. Mandingo

    Libs can wish for it but it wont happen. After Obama and all the problems he has caused for country the democrats in traditionally blue states ( which some are now in play for the GOP ) are having a tough time. For a liberal to get elected in GA something major would have to happen to the opposing GOp candidate.

    July 23, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  6. betterdays

    She can improve her odds by making a speech about the Republican candidates' efforts to "put y'all back in chains." It works!

    July 23, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    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.
    I don't know much of anything amount this Nunn. Why would attention turn to someone who's never held elected office before in Senate race? Yeah, yeah, I know. Her father was a popular Senator. So what. She's a political unknown.

    July 23, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  8. JustMe

    I will gladly vote for her.

    July 23, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  9. Fair is Fair

    Ummmmmmm... nope. Georgia will NOT be in play. Keep dreaming.

    July 23, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  10. George

    Mr. Dayspring's comments sound like he's trying to talk the Democrats out of investing in a Georgia challenge. All the more reason that they should.

    July 23, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  11. coyoteliberty

    What's her motto? "Turkeyneck for the US Senate?":

    July 23, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  12. maximusvad

    Evolve or perish GOP.

    July 23, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  13. Larry the Lobster

    The Democrats can win. Michelle Nunn cannot.

    July 23, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  14. Guest

    depends on how many food stamp recipients they have.

    July 23, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  15. sly

    America NEEDS to drive the Republican Party out of politics. No one can name ONE thing the GOP has accomplished in over 15 years, except to murder 500,000 citizens during the Bush Oil Wars.

    America is finally on the right track. Georgians, wake up to the 20th century and throw away those old confederate GOP.

    July 23, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  16. Malory Archer

    Rick McDaniel

    Any increase in rethug population, in Congress, will be a HUGE negative for America, and could indeed spell the end of America, as a free country.

    The entire Rethugliban Party has become subversive to America, in their quest for total power.



    July 23, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  17. Ruby

    Oh yeah! Some of us think Blue Dog is good, very good indeed. Go Middle!

    July 23, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  18. Malory Archer


    What's her motto? "Turkeyneck for the US Senate?":


    And the rethugs have the spleen to play the victim when a dem says something negative but true about one of the rethugs' brain cell-challenged harpies. Hyprocisy, thy name is rethugliban.

    July 23, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  19. Prancercize

    She looks exactly like the PRANCERCIZE lady! Wow! What a Winner!

    July 23, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  20. onehappyguy

    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.

    July 23, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  21. HollyBB2000

    This is the wrong type of Democrat to run – Republicans need help understanding that overspending to the point of bankruptcy is wrong – even when you want to rebuild foreign countries and provide defense to allies that can easily afford it for themselves.

    Being strong on 'security' is code word – for spending money like a drunken sailor on shore leave. It's true the libertarians are trying to change the Republican party from within – but the last thing you need is to elect Democrats who want to overspend on the military – that'd be counterproductive.

    This is the wrong type of Democrat.

    July 23, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  22. Chris Honry

    YES THEY CAN WIN IN GA! IF IF enough people of one color do not vote and lots of the benefit receivers do vote. IF the race card is played over and over and over again. See, it's OK to stick up for your race as long as you're NOT "White"

    July 23, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  23. Jimmy

    The radical right and the radical left are running the country.
    Why do we think she is a "moderate" just because her father was?

    July 23, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  24. Hector Slagg

    Not sure at this time. The last democrat senator from Georgia was Max Cleland. He turned out to be a liberal and was promptly defeated. We will see.

    July 23, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  25. greg

    If nothing else, her presence might deflect the GOP from nominating yet another ultra right winger.
    Democrats won't elect anyone in the South without putting together viable state organizations and fielding reasonable candidates. Way too many races are decided by default, resulting in the growing extreminist House caucus with some inroads into the Senate.

    July 23, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
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