Is it possible that Georgia’s next United States Senator will be a Democrat? It wouldn’t surprise me.
No Democrats hold statewide office in Georgia, and the Georgia House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans. But, a perfect progressive storm may be brewing in the deep South.
First, Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced that he would not seek re-election, creating a rare open seat. Since then, countless Georgia progressives I’ve talked with are cautiously optimistic, while some Republicans – mostly those not joining the long line to qualify to run for the U.S. Senate seat- are worried.
And, then there’s the Republican primary. That contest is shaping up to be a bloody free-for-all, and there’s a better than even chance that Georgia Republicans will choose a far-rightwing candidate - someone who will scare the sugar right out of tea served by Georgia’s swing voters – suburban women. Though the field is sure to expand, the first two Republicans to announce are none other than Georgia Representatives Paul Broun (R) and Phil Gingrey (R).
Even if you’re not from Georgia, those names should ring a bell. Broun, who regularly says things that would make milk curdle, is most famous for his declaration that evolution is a lie straight from the pit of hell. And Phil Gingrey most recently embarrassed himself by the defending Todd Akin and Richard Murdouch and the concept of “legitimate rape.” That BOTH of Broun and Gingrey are medical doctors is enough to give any self-respecting resident of the 21st century cause for pause.
On the Democratic side, while no one has formally announced, both Congressman John Barrow and Michelle Nunn, CEO of Point of Light and daughter of former United States Senator Sam Nunn, are rumored to be considering a run. The buzz is that Barrow and Nunn are planning to meet to discuss the race. How Southern of them – and smart. Hopefully, one will emerge as “the” candidate, avoiding a primary fight. But, even if both run, the winner of the primary will likely have more in common with Georgia voters than anyone Republicans manage to get though a primary. Both Barrow and Nunn have fundraising chops, Nunn in the nonprofit sector and Barrow in his often hotly-contested congressional races.
But, wait. Even if Democrats choose the better candidate how will they get elected in Georgia, you ask? I mean, seriously, Saxby Chambliss is a senator because he defeated Max Cleland.
That’s an excellent question that finally, in Georgia, has a good answer. Over the past decade, while Georgia’s population has become more and more diverse, Democrats have not turned these demographic changes into victories on election day. But, progressives in Georgia have finally gotten the memo that demographic changes alone will not turn Georgia blue. (Though, President Obama did surprisingly well in Georgia in 2008 and 2012, and in 2008, Jim Martin forced Sen. Chambliss to a run-off.)
Progressive donors and volunteers in Georgia, who are accustomed to supporting national campaigns and senate races in other states, are now investing in building the statewide infrastructure needed to engage our more diverse electorate and elect progressive candidates to office. As has happened in other states that have turned from red to blue, much of this work is happening outside the traditional party structure.
All of this adds up to the best opportunity since 1996 for a Democrat to be elected to the United States Senate in Georgia. Certainly, stranger things have happened.
Amy Morton is Chair of Better Georgia, Inc. and a 20 year veteran of progressive politics in the Peach State. She previously chaired Georgia’s WIN List, was Vice Chair of Victory 2010, the Coordinated Campaign of the Democratic Party of Georgia and has consulted on multiple candidates and independent committees. A North Carolina native, Amy is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has her own practice in Macon, Georgia where she has lived for the last 28 years.