Democrats make Senate stand in Georgia

Democrats are feeling blue about Georgia, and they like it: Namely, in difficult midterm elections, the party is positioned to take over a Republican-held Senate seat and the governorship.

Although Democrats were mildly disappointed that businessman David Perdue won the Republican Senate runoff Tuesday against veteran Representative Jack Kingston, that bitter campaign left scars, and Perdue is a mistake-prone candidate.

He faces Democrat Michelle Nunn, who starts the general election with advantages: she has raised lots of money and has almost $5 million cash on hand; she runs ahead of Perdue in a recent survey; it’s her first race, and she has evolved into a good candidate while also riding the continuing popularity of her father, Sam Nunn, who represented the state in the Senate for 24 years until retiring in 1997.

As Democrats struggle to retain control of the Senate – the Republicans need to win a net of six seats – Democrats hope to offset any losses by picking off a couple held by Republicans; at the top of the list is the one in Georgia of retiring Saxby Chambliss.

The poll that has Nunn ahead also shows that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Jason Carter, a state legislator and grandson of President Jimmy Carter, is beating incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who’s entangled in some ethics controversies.

Democrats tout the appeal of this fresh-faced young ticket – he is 38 and she is 47 – running against a 71-year old-incumbent and a 64-year-old businessman with some Mitt Romney-type business controversies in his background.

The generational appeal of the two Democrats, argues Gordon Giffin, the Nunn campaign chairman and veteran Georgia political strategist, is powerful: “Here one plus one equals three.”

Republicans counter that with the primaries now over, Georgia will revert to its conservative inclinations in the fall, predicting victories by Deal and Perdue. They note that while their Senate candidates attacked each other in a primary and runoff, Michelle Nunn has largely escaped criticism; that will change quickly.

The wealthy Perdue is expected to go after Nunn, a nonprofit executive who worked with former Republican President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light organization, as a national, liberal Democrat who has avoided specific stances. Democrats, however, doubt a slash and burn tactic will work in this case: The Nunns of Georgia just don’t resonate left-wing radicalism.

Despite Perdue’s background, Nunn will have considerable business support; she has ties to a number of top executives and her father was a favorite of the state’s business community. And Perdue got into an ugly fight with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which backed Kingston in the runoff.

President Barack Obama will be an albatross for the Democrats in Georgia, though one crucial question is whether the party can register several hundred thousand new African-Americans and Latino voters and turn them out on Nov. 4.

Both contests likely will be close. Yet the early odds suggest an even chance that Georgia next January will be represented statewide by a Carter and a Nunn, just as it was 40 years ago.