Republicans Prevail in South Carolina, but Can Democrats Take a Prize in Georgia?

Posted: May 09, 2013 12:05 AM
ATLANTA -- Despite on onslaught of national press that seemed to be pushing Elizabeth Colbert Busch toward a victory in the South Carolina special congressional election, former Gov. Mark Sanford, baggage and all, prevailed with a resounding victory. And while I never judge personal lives, it is fair to say that voters in that district overlooked quite a lot in giving Sanford a pass on his past and into the U.S. House.

Many political pundits, at least when it looked like Colbert Busch was a potential winner, began to suggest that the outcome of her race against Sanford might be instructive as to another and bigger contest that will occur next year in neighboring Georgia. There, a U.S. Senate seat, open as a result of Sen. Saxby Chambliss' decision not to seek re-election, will be hotly contested.

Most experts would presume that Georgia's status as a "safe" Republican state would guarantee victory for a GOP nominee in a state where Democrats over the past decade have not fared so well. But recent polling suggests that Georgia, like many other GOP-leaning states, has shifted from being one in which most voters view themselves as both fiscally and socially conservative, to one where many have, as they do every so often, tired a bit of social issues.

This makes the Republican primary in Georgia next year a tricky one indeed. The players include Rep. Phil Gingrey of metro Atlanta, Jack Kingston of coastal Georgia including Savannah, and Paul Broun of the university town of Athens. Waiting in the wings may be former Secretary of State Karen Handel and, less likely, Rep. Tom Price, also from the Atlanta area.

All of the potential candidates would likely make it on an "all-star" team of conservative elected or former elected officials. But one name stands out in the minds of political pundits and so-called experts -- Broun.

The conventional wisdom is that Broun will have the support of the most extreme of conservative voters in Georgia and that the other candidates will follow his lead on virtually every issue, so that, as Kingston suggested, no one will outflank anyone else on the conservative side of issues.

Broun is a likable if not somewhat quirky fellow whose ultraconservative views have been solidly in place for years, even when he was a political activist and GOP supporter while his well-respected and now deceased father ruled his area of the state as a staunch Democrat.

So the pundits, particularly those who were catching the rise of Colbert in South Carolina, view the Georgia race as one in which Broun, whose past comments might fly in a primary but be a Todd (of the "legitimate rape" statement) Akin-like problem against a conservative Democrat in the general election. Those comments include condemning the theory of evolution and his suggestion that a civilian national service corps under President Obama might somehow be reflective of what the Nazis created under Adolf Hitler.

Thus comes the notion that Broun could win a much anticipated highly conservative GOP primary in Georgia, but lose to a conservative Democrat in November.

But then came Tuesday's vote in South Carolina. A GOP nominee who had more than just words to explain trounced a candidate with a household-known last name (Colbert is the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert). So the assumption that a Paul Broun who has ventured into non-politically correct land more than once would be toast in the ultimate contest for Chambliss' seat might not be such a safe one to make.

And the most likely Georgia Democrat to take a Republican down in 2014, Rep. John Barrow, a truly conservative Democrat (and endangered political species), announced this week that he won't be joining the race.

Now the name Democrats seem focused on is that of Michelle Nunn, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. Ms. Nunn is extremely bright, heads up a huge volunteer organization and could garner support from women voters in Georgia, some of which have since November drifted into the self-described "moderately conservative" category.

Of course, a "moderate conservative" in Georgia may not reflect even the conservative Democratic Party of the past Sam Nunn days. While Nunn was highly respected, he lost much of his political steam when he chose to oppose President George H.W. Bush's Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Nunn chose not to seek re-election the following year. And his name identification, as is the case for all retired politicians, exist mainly with hardcore political junkies.

But we have learned from South Carolina and in the case of Broun, who came from Democratic stock, voters have a short memory. Now the question is, how will these candidates align themselves? Will Georgia take the course South Carolina seemed to be taking for a while, or will the result mirror Sanford's victory? The political winds are blowing, and plenty of fingers are likely in the air.