There were two stars at the Georgia Municipal Association’s U.S. Senate campaign debate in Atlanta on Monday, and one of them wasn’t even there. That would be presumed Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn. The other was Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Athens.

The theme of the Republican primary race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss was established during the GOP portion of the debate. That theme is ‘me too.’ All six candidates disavowed big government, disdained President Obama, and declared that Obamacare needs to be thrown in the dipsy dumpster.

Most of the six sought to appear distinctive based not on policy, but on biography. Congressman Jack Kingston has the most, and the most important, lawmaking experience, according to Congressman Jack Kingston. Congressman Phil Gingrey is a physician, and so the most qualified to face down the dragon of Obamacare. And so on.

The most compelling of these life stories likely will be the one that has the most money behind it. That would mean lots of exposure on TV and in other media.

Broun is the exception to this lockstep march of the conservative candidates. His goal is — or should be — to keep flanking his rivals to the ideological right. That could put him into a runoff with perhaps the likes of Kingston or Gingrey or Karen Handel, and then who knows?

Broun is portrayed by most media, most Democrats, and even some Republicans as a nut job. (Some would say it’s Broun who in fact portrays Broun as a kook.) But notoriety can bring fame if you keep at it and you get a couple of breaks somewhere down the line.

This is not a prediction that Broun will get elected senator. It is a declaration that he could make things interesting before the May 20 primary — more interesting than party bosses want.

For starters, he’s likely to draw plenty of media, and in a race that features no statewide household names. (Unless it’s the quirky Broun himself.)  Most media will love to loathe him. He makes for some great copy. And many Republicans see mainstream media disregard as a badge of honor.

Second, the GOP base is not happy with what they see as a Republican Party in Washington that is copping out on the conservative agenda. That will intensify if the GOP leadership in the U.S. House is seen by the party base as capitulating on immigration reform. There is talk now that that is exactly what’s going to happen. Broun possibly could exploit this sentiment.

Third, the primary comes early this year. That means, among other things, that 1) a shorter campaign may lend itself to less serious policy debate and more bumper-sticker ideology as a deciding factor; and 2) May 20 may come and go for some Republican voters who are waiting on a primary at ‘the usual time’ of summer. A low turnout is possible, and low turnouts can propel underdogs — especially ideologically pure ones — into runoffs.

And here’s the kicker: If Jack Kingston or Phil Gingrey or Karen Handel gets into a runoff with Paul Broun, they might be forced to drift further to the right than they would otherwise, in order to win that runoff.

And if Michelle Nunn is able to project herself as a centrist, which she clearly intends to do, then a perceived ‘right-wing extremist’ Republican nominee might be vulnerable in this, the brave new world of changing demographics in Georgia.

(More to come on Michelle Nunn.)


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