The Magazine

The More, Not the Merrier

Five Republicans vie for the open Senate seat in Georgia.

Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The National Republican Senatorial Committee isn’t getting involved, either, at least publicly. Says NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring: “We are confident and comfortable that whichever candidate voters choose in the primary will offer a clear and preferable contrast to Michelle Nunn in the eyes of most Georgians.”

What if they choose wrong? Their other options don’t exactly excite. Karen Handel is the most familiar to voters and has the highest favorability ratings, but she’s not raising much money. Instead, she sets herself apart from the House members as an “outsider” who’s actually cut spending, both as secretary of state and as a county commissioner in Fulton County, the state’s most populous. When asked what spending she cut, Handel struggles to get specific.

David Perdue, despite being a cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue, is practically unknown to voters, owing largely to the fact that he’s never run for office before. A former CEO of Dollar General and of Reebok, Perdue says that’s an asset, and he’s hoping voters are looking for someone new. “I’m the only true outsider,” he says. The question is whether he can raise enough money to buy his way out of obscurity.

Republican hopes to avoid “disaster” may rest with Jack Kingston, the 21-year House veteran from Savannah. Kingston would slip most easily into the role Chambliss has played in the Senate: a friend to agribusiness, an advocate for the military (5 of the state’s 12 military installations are in Kingston’s district), and a south Georgian to counterbalance the influence of metro Atlanta. He also has enough fundraising connections and establishment support to make the most serious play for the runoff.

He’s not perceived as a conservative favorite, though. Kingston’s American Conservative Union lifetime rating is nearly 96, and he has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, but his opponents are hoping to cast him as an insufficiently pure creature of Washington. Kingston supported the recently passed $500 billion farm bill and argues his work on the appropriations committee kept the cost from going higher. But it’s perfect fodder for his opponents in a Republican primary.

In a runoff between Kingston and Broun, the smart money would be on Kingston. “I don’t think Broun’ll be the nominee,” says Tanenblatt, with just a trace of doubt in his voice. Beyond a fervent base of loyal supporters, Broun may not have the ability to sustain a campaign through a runoff. He would need the support of outside groups and super-PACs, most of which are curiously neutral. So far, only Citizens United has endorsed Broun. “We’re watching the race,” says Barney Keller of the Club for Growth.

But a runoff between Kingston and anyone else? That’s harder to predict. “I’d keep my eye on Phil Gingrey,” says Tanenblatt. Or maybe Handel, he says, whom he describes as “one of the hardest-working people in politics.” Or maybe Perdue, a “fresh face” who might be just what the party’s looking for. Maybe even Broun could capture the anti-Obama fever among Georgia Republicans and find a path to victory.

After all, in this race, when you get right down to it, there are only five Republicans who have a real shot at winning.

Michael Warren is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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