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A Family Squabble in Georgia

Previewing the coming GOP primary fight to succeed Saxby Chambliss.

6:00 AM, Feb 18, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The important factor is Georgia’s changing demographics. In 2001, 72 percent of the Georgia electorate was white, while 26 percent was black and less than 1 percent was Hispanic. To win statewide, Democrats needed a big chunk of that white vote, and, needless to say, Republican electoral success in Georgia has been marked by whites abandoning the Democrats. But those numbers are shifting. In 2012, whites were just 60 percent, while blacks made up 30 percent, and Hispanics 2 percent. There are probably fewer white Democrats in Georgia than ever before, but the party just doesn’t need as many white votes as it used to. If the trend continues, Democratic fortunes could improve.

All of which makes the 2014 Senate race, and particularly the GOP primary, important. One Republican activist put the stakes in perspective. “It would be nice to have an incumbent up in 2020 rather than another open seat,” he says. “Both age and extremism come into play.”

Of the three Republican congressmen still mulling a Senate run, Price is being the most forthcoming about his timeline. In a statement released Monday, he said he would put off making a decision until May. At a luncheon meeting at the Heritage Foundation last Tuesday, I asked Price why he was waiting to announce until then.

“The responsibilities that I’ve been given right now as vice-chair of the budget committee and the imperative of the challenges that we have as a country and the acceptance of that responsibility demand my attention there,” he said.

On Friday, Price described the moment a politician announces a campaign for higher office as a “red letter day.” “Everything else goes away after that date,” he said. “And so you lose all your focus on everything else, and I don’t think that’s a responsible thing to do right now.”

Price’s reluctance to jump in the race early—after all, there are nearly 20 months until Election Day 2014—has nevertheless surprised Georgia political observers, who say they sensed an announcement from Price soon after Chambliss’s withdrawal.

Gingrey and Graves may not follow Price’s lead in laying low. “I do think that when one of them breaks the logjam, that, you know, it will move a lot faster,” said Westmoreland. “Once the thing breaks and once somebody jumps out, I think they’re all going to have to do it, because if they don’t, if only one of them announces, they may line up all the donors.”

Sources say Phil Gingrey, whose metro Atlanta district borders Price’s, is anxious to run and being urged to do so by his wife. Members of his own staff, however, are encouraging him to take his time before getting in. Age may be one reason for his staff’s trepidation—Gingrey is 70 years old—but just as relevant may be his comment last month that failed 2012 Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri was “partly right” when Akin spoke about “legitimate rape,” pregnancy, and abortion. Gingrey, an OB-GYN, has argued he was misunderstood but the national media coverage of the impolitic statement has aides wanting to put as much distance as possible between those comments and any announcement about a Senate run.

A dark horse for the nomination could be 43-year-old Tom Graves. The north Georgia congressman is serving his second full term and identifies more directly from the Tea Party movement. With a shorter, more conservative record than many of his House colleagues, Graves could capitalize on the frustration with Washington’s “business as usual” that motivated talks of a primary challenge to Chambliss in the first place.

Then there are the congressmen already in the race. Jack Kingston, a longtime congressman from south Georgia, has two major challenges to his Senate candidacy. The first is his record. A House member since 1993, the 57-year-old Kingston has the least conservative record among the Georgia Republican delegation due largely to his votes for agricultural subsidies and other pork projects. The federal money kept him popular in his rural district, which has overwhelmingly reelected him year after year, but in a state with a strong conservative grassroots presence, those votes could mean trouble in a contested primary. Just as problematic may be his Savannah residence, since Kingston could struggle to get sufficient name identification in the metro Atlanta area, where the bulk of the state’s population resides. The same problem plagued Savannah-based state senator Eric Johnson in his unsuccessful 2010 bid for governor. Kingston’s early entry suggests he recognizes the need to raise enough money to get on air often in the expensive Atlanta media market.

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