The upcoming Georgia elections are off the radar of most citizens, but there could be some real surprises looming.
The main surprise could be the beginning of a rebirth of the state’s Democratic Party. After the state was swamped by the Republican tidal wave over a decade ago, Democrats have all but disappeared outside of most metro communities.
If you look at the members of the Georgia Legislature, most Democratic members are black from urban areas. Few white Democrats hold any position of influence in the state.
As a child of the 1960s when white Democrats held sway in the state and Republicans were virtually non-existent, I never thought the GOP would be able to break the Democratic hold in Georgia. But the demographics changed: Roosevelt Democrats began to die off; migration from the North brought in a new middle class of white suburban Republicans; and younger voters weaned during the Reagan years became more conservative and mostly Republican.
That left only black voters and some urban liberals in the state’s Democratic fold.
But that could be changing again as two big name white Democrats are poised to challenge the GOP in two key statewide races.
Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, looks to be the de facto Democrat poised to challenge the GOP for the open Senate seat of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
Nunn has raised a lot of money, over $3.3 million. But her biggest asset is her famous name. Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn was one of the most respected members of the Senate during his tenure. He was a serious senator and by today’s hyper-media standards, not a flashy sound bite. But he was admired by members of both parties and considered a moderate-conservative Democrat at a time when such an animal still existed.
Daughter Michelle is obviously attempting to replicate her father’s moderate-conservative tone. Her television campaign commercials don’t mention that she’s a Democrat and in one sequence, shows her standing with President George Bush (the first).
Current polls show Nunn running a close race against the major Republican candidates. Republicans Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and David Perdue are considered to be the leading candidates for the GOP nomination.
Broun is the most right-wing candidate of the GOP pack and could very well grab the Republican nomination by rallying the party faithful and hard-core evangelical vote.
But Broun may not play very well with more moderate Republicans and Independents. If Nunn is able to maintain her stand as a moderate Democrat, she could potentially pull enough of those votes to defeat Broun in November. However, should a more moderate Republican prevail (Perdue, Kingston) as the GOP nominee, Nunn may struggle to get enough support to win.
Perhaps a longer shot race for state Democrats is Jason Carter’s bid for Governor against incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal. Carter is the grandson of President Jimmy Carter.
Unlike Nunn, however, the Carter name in Georgia isn’t as revered. President Carter’s tenure as president is considered by many as one of the worst presidencies in history. It may be difficult for Carter to lure moderate Republicans and Independents to his cause.
But Deal has his own problems, too. Ongoing ethic violation complaints continue to dog the governor. And Deal has a GOP challenger in state school superintendent John Barge. While Barge is unlikely to seriously challenge the incumbent for the nomination, he could inflict damage to the GOP ticket.
Still, most early polls show Gov. Deal leading Carter. Incumbents do have an advantage no matter what kind of issues plague them.
Both of these races merit watching. The demographics in Georgia are again shifting and Democrats may not be as dead as many Republicans believe.
In addition, there is some level of fatigue among moderate Georgia Republicans who want to distance themselves from the far right wing of the party.
Should be interesting.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.