Focus by November Will Be More than Georgia-Florida Football
4/4/2014 12:01:00 AM - Matt Towery
It occurs usually in late October and is billed as "The World's Largest Cocktail Party." The annual contest between two college football titans, the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Florida Gators, in Jacksonville often overshadows other late season college contests.
But this year it might not be just the gridiron action involving these two states that makes the headlines.
Many pundits believe that both Georgia and Florida may have huge battles in their respective races for Governor and that Georgia's U.S. Senate contest could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
If Democrats could knock off incumbent Republican governors in two of the South's largest states, that might signal a shift in the region upon which Democrats could build in 2016.
And if Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, could defeat the Republican nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat, her victory might stave off a shift of the Senate to control by the GOP.
But these pundits might be off on these contests, starting with the Senate race in Georgia.
Virtually every poll taken in Georgia has Ms. Nunn close to, if not defeating, various relatively unknown potential Republican opponents. But these same polls have huge percentages of voters who are undecided.
Independent voters, who decide most races in Georgia, generally dislike Obamacare, give President Obama poor ratings as a president and have been the deciding factor in putting Georgia into the Republican column in presidential races, including the weakling efforts of McCain and Romney.
Already, television ads are running in the state linking Nunn with Obamacare. And, given her proclivity to be seen with Democratic superstars such as Vice President Joe Biden, who is equally unpopular in Georgia, Nunn will be a sitting duck for guilt by association with a national Democratic Party that is still far left of Georgia's political center.
It might be that Nunn's race becomes a yawner, particularly in light of the emergence of fairly mainstream candidates as the leaders in a May primary to determine her November Republican opponent.
There is a wrinkle in the Nunn race. A Libertarian could kick up enough dust to deprive the Republican nominee of a straight-up win the November election. But given the state's history of poor Democratic turnout in such instances, a runoff election would result in a blowout win for the Republican.
More attention has shifted to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's reelection effort in Georgia. He too looks like he's in trouble, with numerous polls, including one I conducted, showing him statistically tied with state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Carter. Deal is in trouble only because several in his government mishandled a freak snowstorm in January. It is that simple. A likeable fellow, he can easily recapture the heart of disaffected voters in Georgia if his campaign gets in gear with the right messages.
Deal's opponent, Sen. Carter, is a bright and likeable young man with a strong future. But already he has made several rookie mistakes. Chief among those would be voting in favor of a controversial bill expanding gun rights, which is highly unpopular among Georgia's large group of independent voters. With his vote in favor of the bill, Carter took Deal, whose GOP-dominated legislature placed on his desk for approval, off the hook of what could have been a critically important wedge issue.
Carter likely wins only if the Deal campaign refuses to face the fact that they aren't where they need to be and fails to start campaigning on television immediately with the right messages.
The race that none of the pundits have considered close is the reelection of Governor Rick Scott in Florida. Scott faces the likeable, if oh so transparent, former Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist has served in every political party imaginable and in every job he could possibly wish to seek.
In the Scott-Crist race, the experts see an inevitable Crist win. But Scott has taken the challenge seriously, is campaigning with vigor, and is rising in the polls very quickly.
With the stigma of Obamacare and links to unpopular national Democrats, these three Republicans in the South might be on safer ground than anyone currently might fathom. But in all three instances, the contests will likely attract the national attention of a good old-fashioned Georgia-Florida game.