The ’14 Senate races: Georgia on my mind

     Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after her primary win was announced at an election-night watch party Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in Atlanta. (Akili-Casundria Ramsess/AP Photos)

    Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after her primary win was announced at an election-night watch party Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in Atlanta. (Akili-Casundria Ramsess/AP Photos)

    If you’re fixated on the ’14 Senate races and wondering whether Democrats can keep the chamber – hey, isn’t this what everybody thinks about during the summer? – keep an eye on the state that could ultimately determine which party controls the Cave of Winds in 2015.

    That would be Georgia, which is poised to host a contest neither party can afford to lose. Republicans need a nationwide net gain of six seats in order to take the Senate, but their climb becomes far steeper if the Georgia seat (currently held by retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss) flips to the other side. Democrats desperately need to swipe a red-state seat somewhere in order to stem a potential Republican surge of older, angry white voters (the usual folks who dominate midterm elections).

    Georgia is the state where Democrats appear to hanging their hopes – despite the fact that Georgia is a state where Democrats have been banished from power since around 2002. A Democratic win in November strikes me as fantasy, like Luke Skywalker scoring his improbable bullseye in the core of the Death Star, but in politics, you never know. For instance:

    Democrats think the state’s racial demographics are breaking their way – since 2000, nearly one million non-whites have been added to the voter rolls; by contrast, only 110,000 whites have been added – and Democrats think they have a credible Senate candidate, someone who can coax those predominantly Democratic non-whites off the sofa and into the midterm voting booth: Michelle Nunn, daughter of retired Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn.

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    But the problem is, Michelle Nunn is a bland centrist (like her dad) who makes vanilla seem exciting (like her dad). It’s hard to see how she can harvest a big minority turnout. Nor is it likely that she can score well among whites, either. Her dad won his multiple elections at a time when a lot of Georgia whites were still willing to support centrist “Blue Dog” Democrats. But those days are over – especially now, with Barack Obama atop the Democratic pyramid.

    Sorry to frame the contest in stark racial terms, but that’s reality. Michelle Nunn can’t possibly compete for white votes the way her dad did. Her opponent, businessman David Perdue – who won the Republican nomination in a primary runoff two nights ago – is ideally suited (via his combativeness and “free enterprise” rhetoric) to stoke robust white turnout in the conservative suburbs. Perdue plans to tie Nunn to the Obama regime (even though she has never held elective office), and force her to defend Obamacare (whereas he’s “going to talk about repealing it”). That strategy should be enough to reap 75 percent of the white vote.

    So, Nunn needs a huge minority turnout. On paper, it’s possible. Since 2000, the white share of the registered Georgia electorate has reportedly dropped from 72 percent to 59 percent; the spike in minority registration has heavily driven by black re-migration (Georgia natives moving back home from northern cities). There’s optimistic talk in Democratic circles of Georgia turning blue, especially if Hillary Clinton heads the presidential ticket in ’16.

    But Nunn has said virtually nothing that could trigger a stampede of blacks and Hispanics to the midterm polls. Rest assured, they’re not gavanized by her long stint as leader of the Points of Light Foundation – a philanthropic group inspired by President George H. W (“a thousand points of light”) Bush. Her first TV ad proudly flashed a photo of Bush – a guy who finished his political career in 1992 with only 10 percent of the black vote.

    And it’s hard to envision that Georgia blacks and Hispanics will be turned on by her deer-in-the-headlights stance on Obamacare. They might show up en masse to support a candidate who fights, but not one who punts. When Nunn was recently asked whether she would have voted for Obamacare, she replied: “I think it’s impossible to look back retrospectively and say, ‘What would you have done when you were there?'”

    Nunn might survive that kind of dodge in a presidential election year – perhaps riding the coattails of a strong Democratic candidate who can turn out the burgeoning minority electorate – but ’14 seems inhospitable to a Luke Skywalker bullseye. For a Democratic novice hoping to crack the Deep South, Blue Dog blandness doesn’t cut it anymore.

    Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Senate map: In case Democrats were still hoping to keep their ’14 seat in red-state Montana, they might want to rethink that notion. At the top of the ticket, they’re apparently stuck with a documented plagiarist.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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