Democratic candidates in the fall election show that an Atlanta address is no longer an impossible handicap in Georgia elections.
Party candidates Michelle Nunn for the U.S. Senate, Jason Carter for governor and Valarie Wilson for school superintendent all live in Atlanta. That’s a significant change.
“Not only did Georgians seeking state-wide support, in years past, need to have rural roots, but they had to have a dog as well, be a war veteran, never be seen drinking alcohol in public, and appear to be happily-married,” Buckhead Coalition President and former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell said in an e-mail.
The Atlanta connection has not proven a serious drawback so far as Democrats appear to have their strongest opportunity in years to win in U.S. Senate and governor’s races. That speaks to changes in the Georgia electorate in which urban and suburban communities have gained more importance than rural areas in deciding elections.
The state’s cities outside Atlanta have a young professional work force with an urban outlook. Augusta boasts one of the nation’s strongest high-tech industries, with a vibrant community of Internet startup entrepreneurs. Columbus, Macon and Savannah also have moved away from old industries such as textiles to health care, education and technology.
While showing strong appeal for inner-city voters, the Democrats also are looking to draw support from independents in more conservative suburban areas while not neglecting the still vital rural electorate.
Republicans, particularly the Tea Party wing, showed strength in affluent suburban communities during the recent primary elections. In the 10th congressional district, Tea Party candidate Jody Hice won convincingly over Mike Collins, and in the 11th, which cuts across a swath of Atlanta’s northern suburbs and into the city of Atlanta’s Buckhead district, conservative Barry Loudermilk defeated former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr.
Democrats will have a strong challenge in exciting their supporters in those districts, which include rural areas as well as affluent suburbs.
In the fall election, Hice is strongly favored to defeat Democratic challenger Ken Dious in the 10th District, which includes heavily Democratic Athens, the home of the University of Georgia. An Athens attorney, Dious trails in fund-raising, and a weak campaign by him will hurt Nunn and Carter in the district. Conversely, a strong turnout by Nunn and Carter supporters will help Dious.
The Democrats also face a challenge in motivating voters in the 11th District, where party support is so weak that Loudermilk faces no Democratic opposition in the general election. Loudermilk will head to Washington to replace incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination.
Among other congressional races that could influence the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, Democratic incumbent John Barrow’s attempt to hold on to his seat against Republican challenger Rick Allen is drawing national attention. A strong turnout by Democrats seeking to keep Barrow in office will help Nunn and Carter. Dominated by Augusta, the district also includes the cities of Dublin, Douglas and Statesboro, the home of Georgia Southern.
While Nunn’s Atlanta ties don’t look like a crippling obstacle in her effort to beat GOP nominee David Perdue for the Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Saxby Chambliss, she does need to overcome the fact that she mainly grew up in Washington, D.C., during the years that her father, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, held office. That vulnerability was cited in a Nunn campaign plan recently leaked by the National Review, the first serious dustup in the race.
With an eye to changing the perception that she’s an urban outsider, Nunn’s begun her campaign by touring rural areas and reaching out to veterans’ and military groups.
While the race shows the shifting electoral dynamics in Georgia, Massell pointed out that the basics of gaining office remain the same.
“Yes, the profile of a successful candidate has changed in many ways, albeit, not always for our benefit.,” Massell said in his e-mail. “An ethical image is still the most important credential, in my opinion, and – in spite of lapses in integrity – is of course the most meaningful to results we want.
“However, I fervently recall as a child hearing my Dad defending a candidate by arguing that at least he’s honest, at which point my Grandfather answered that’s nothing, everyone is expected to be honest!
“We learn who’s important at strange times.”