Georgia Senate Primary A Race of Many Rifts
Historic Tidbit via Paul Boller’s “Congressional Anecdotes.” One day as a junior member of the House, Gerald Ford gave a somewhat elongated speech. After, a colleague from Texas came up to him and said, “Jerry, that was the best longhorne speech I ever heard.” Ford stared quizzically. The man explained that a longhorne speech is one that has “two points, far, far apart with plenty of bull in between.”
By Scott Crass
Recently, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss announced that he wouldn’t stand for a third term. For many, the news was the farthest thing from a shock. Chambliss had been under fire from the base for his flirtation with the Democrats revenue plan, and polls had shown him trailing hypothetical primary match ups by huge margins. It seems that Chambliss, who would be 71 next year, decided to end his two decades in Washington on a high note (he served in the House for eight years prior to his 2002 Senate win).
The race to replace him is a complete and utter mess which, if it maintains it’s current form may not even be predictable on primary night let alone 16 months away. Four Republican Congressman (three of whom are doctors) and potentially two statewide officials may jump into the race and that seems assured of busting out into the open rifts between party elements that long-existed, but that were more gingerly handled. And with candidacies looming from Northeast Georgia,Northwest Georgia, suburban Atlanta, and metro-Savannah, regional patterns, base-votes and ideology mean the race (coupled with a certain runoff three weeks later) will be a long, hard slog to the finish line.
Paul Broun was the first candidate out of the gate. He has been a somewhat outspoken, tempestuous figure on Capital Hill since his arrival in 2007 (his first bill was to outlaw abortion) and his rhetoric, coupled with his promotion of doctrinaire conservatism may make him second only to Michelle Bachmann in the House. He called Obama’s agenda “socialist” and said evolution was “lies straight from the pit of Hell.” Personal woes, such as declaring personal bankruptcy and the insolvency of a bank he co-owned, have surfaced as well.
Yet the Broun name is fairly well known in his Athens area district, as a major highway was named for his father, a former State Senator. But suffice it to say the national GOP is not enamored with his candidacy.
Phil Gingrey has represented suburban Atlanta for a dozen years. He combines a staunch conservative agenda that he often takes to the House floor to promote after hours with an easy-going style that has long enabled him to work with Democrats. Gingrey’s lighter, at ease side has landed him on shows such as Colbert’s better know a district.” But it can also cause him at least minor problems.
An obstetrician who routinely cites his work in House debates, Gingrey’s recent partial defense of Todd Akin’s legitimate rape comment raised eyebrows (“we tell women who are having trouble getting pregnant to relax”),but may enhance his name recognition and backing from within conservatives seeking an alternative to Broun. Still, it was perhaps his fear of the unknown that caused him to walk his comments back. Calling them “stupid,” Gingrey said he “made a very awkward attempt to explain the unexplainable.”
Gingrey has made a habit of playing good cop-bad cop with conservatives. He once criticized Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (“it’s easy to throw rocks from the outside,’) then retracted it, calling his comments, you guessed it, “stupid/”He also said he was open to a ban on high capacity magazines but quickly put the kabbosh on that. Gingrey’s biggest impediment may be his age. 72 may be a baby by Senate standards, but, some may see it as a little old to be starting a Senate career.
Jack Kingston is the senior member of the bunch and after 21 years in the House, would seem to have a lock on the south Georgia vote. Like his colleague, he articulates his conservative pedigree but is less rigid than some of his would-be rivals. Kingston has a gift of gab and as one tasked by his colleagues with “messaging,” has a presence on television, often appearing on cable-talk shows.
As a long-time Appropriator with a very congenial style, Kingston has forged strong relationships with Democrats which makes him impossible to like even when he’s being disagreeable. This has enabled him to look after his agriculture dependent district, particularly when it comes to the peanut industry. But this may prove a hindrance with the right. Kingston in the past supported earmarks and has topped the Georgia delegation in terms of requesting them. But it remains to be seen how much of an issue this will play.
The fourth candidate who may enter, Tom Price, was initially seen as conservatives dream choice, particularly when it wasn’t clear Chambliss would retire. A medical doctor who has been out front in his opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and his loss for House GOP Conference Committee Chair (despite backing from Paul Ryan) last November seemed to fuel a House exit strategy. But after a fast-paced fund-raising start, Price hasn’t been in a particular rush getting out of the gate.
He initially hinted that he wouldn’t run if Karen Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State on the losing end of the Governor’s race to Deal got in, though that is not assured. But even if that doesn’t happen, that lies a big problem.
Price initially backed Deal when his then-House colleague launched a surprising bid for Governor, but shifted later in the campaign to Handel. Price seems genuinely undecided, stating in February that he would like to wait until pressing budget matters are solved. Unlike Gingrey and Kingston, Price doesn’t show a warm and fuzzy side, which often alienates Democrats, but some are impressed by his ability to articulate conservatism.
The inclination of Chambliss may be to endorse Kingston. The two have been longtime friends to the point that, when their bases were merged in the 2002 remap, the two refused to entertain speculation of challenging one another (Chambliss subsequently entered the Senate race). But voluntarily or not, he may want to keep his powder dry. In Utah, Bob Bennett endorsed a successor, only to see that person lose the primary to Mike Lee by a hair.
Among Republican voters, Broun may have as much going for him as against. He may be a cup of tea for primary voters, but one question that remains to be answered is how much winning will come into play. And how much will the average voter way it. It begs mentioning that personal issues and red-meat, slash and burn rhetoric for the right did not stop Nathan Deal from winning the Gubernatorial runoff (and ultimately the Governorship), and he was a far more obscure figure.
The Deal-Price feud already seems to be playing a role. When Price sought out middle Georgia GOP Congressman Austin Scott, he told Scott “everybody in south Georgia hates you because you were going to run against Saxby, and everybody in north Georgia hates you because of what you did to the governor.” Deal and Price met to soothe things over, but many say Deal is not so privately working behind the scenes to keep his donors from backing Price.
Broun may well secure a spot in the runoff, though it remains to be seen to what extent even the most hard core batch of conservatives in Georgia — of which there are many, would back him. He may be their philosophical soul mate, but many may want a winner. That said, many Democrats least want to face Kingston.
At the moment, few are making serious moves to challenge him, but south Georgia Congressman John Barrow, who has twice foiled attempts by Republicans to draw him out of a House seat, has told supporters he is considering it. But because Barrow has the same geographic base as Kingston (much of his Democratic friendly African-American precincts were moved into Kingston’s district), he would be more at an advantage against Kingston than anyone else.
Handel is still mulling over a bid, and some in Georgia say Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle is too. But Handel is thought to have designs on Price’s seat, and Cagle, despite being a statewide official,
Predictions this early are worthless but if I had to call a winner in the primary, I’d say maybe, maybe Kingston.