Last year, Georgia senior Senator Saxby Chambliss turned Georgia’s political world upside down with his unexpected announcement that he would retire from the United States Senate rather than seek reelection. As Republicans plan their offense for retaking control of the U.S. Senate with a target-rich landscape consisting of four open seats in heavily Republican areas and perennial targets in Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, the news from Senator Chambliss was disappointing to say the least.
For Democrats eager to deploy some offense as they defend against a Republican onslaught, it could not have come at a better time. Then, when former Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter, Michelle Nunn, stepped forward, both National and Georgia Democrats had something to smile about.
Like Virginia and North Carolina, Georgia and Texas have been two states that Democrats believe they can change. In large part, this is due to changing demographics as minorities continue to grow as a percentage of the population and the steady flow of people moving in from other states persists. Yet, most pundits agree that Georgia is still an election cycle or two from being a ‘for real’ purple state.
With just four months to go, the posse of GOP candidates has largely been locked into phase one—a fundraising battle trying to build political war chests to compete when the media wars start.
To no one’s surprise, no candidate has had a breakout moment. Certainly, the ‘cash on hand’ in the coffers of Congressmen Jack Kingston, Paul Broun, and Phil Gingrey keep them in contention. But then, businessmen David Perdue and Eugene Yu can match those war chests with their own private fortunes if they so choose. And, Karen Handel continues to ride the residual name recognition from her gubernatorial run.
Phase two began as the debates have started with candidates starting to position themselves in the context of the field. Unfortunately for the candidates, the six Georgia GOP sponsored debates offer little in the way of earned media, but do cost lots in time, preparation, and the risk of mistake.
As the first debate amply illustrated, unlike Presidential debates that can fill multiple news cycles, the first GOP Senatorial debate generated less than a single cycle of stories, none of which gave much more than an overview of each candidate’s theme.
With so many candidates in the GOP primary, and Michelle Nunn’s well-funded to jump into the race, one dynamic for the GOP field has changed. With a real risk of a well-funded and articulate Democratic challenger, all of the Republican candidates have been reluctant to throw the first political punch in what will end up being a political street brawl. Now admittedly, there have been a few games played, but nothing like what will come with the real battle comes.
Each GOP candidate knows that no one candidate will likely win the GOP Primary without a runoff. And even then, the eventual runoff winner will need everyone else’s help to win in November against Democrat Michelle Nunn. So, the infighting has been delayed, but not avoided.
So, the first punch will come and when it does, watch for all of the gloves to come off. And, shortly thereafter, watch for the punches to be backed by media buys that fill the air waves (as local television and radio stations celebrate).
Some of the political advertisements will come from the candidates themselves. But many others will come from well-funded Super-PACS with a real interest in the outcome of the GOP Primary and the General Election.
That is where cash on hand becomes critical. Without paid media to push back or fight back, some candidates will simply fall by the wayside as the 2014 Georgia GOP Primary works its way toward May 20, 2014. While Georgians know well that political war chest bank balances do not decide elections, they also know that media—including both earned media and paid media—typically tells them all they need or want to know.
With that said, here is where things are:
So far, Congressman Jack Kingston has done a good job working above Interstate I-20 to increase his exposure and work the business and military communities.
Congressman Paul Broun has been very effective in rallying Tea Partiers, libertarians, and evangelicals.
Congressman Phil Gingrey has worked hard to expand his bases outside his Congressional District while consolidating his message with a commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare as his core issue.
David Perdue has made clear that he is not a part of the Washington, D.C. crowd and is the businessman in the race.
Minister Derrick Grayson is hitting the political radar with inroads into the ”We The People” movement and as the lone African American in the primary.
And, former Secretary of State Karen Handell continues to run as the outsider with the will and commitment to shake things up.
And so, it is still anyone’s game. With the personal money some candidates have, all of the candidates come around the bend with a chance to win the GOP Primary. It is the next phase—the media wars—that will separate some from the pack.
This article appears in the new issue of James magazine.